WILDLIFE -- A conservation strategy for managing recovered grizzly bear populations has been the main focus of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee is holding its final meeting of 2016 Tuesday and today in Missoula.
"From a single grizzly sighted in the Big Hole basin where bears haven’t been for decades, to 750-plus grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem getting a conservation strategy nearly completed, to numerous bear encounters in the flatlands east of the Rocky Mountain Front, the committee has digested a lot of ursus arctos horribilis information this year,: reports Rob Chaney of the Missoulian.
That may provide the final push toward removing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population from federal Endangered Species Act protection at this meeting. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, here's more from the Missoulian report:
“The population has exceeded all its goals, but we’re still hammering out the details on the conservation strategy and we’re working to find common ground,” interagency committee spokesman Gregg Losinski said on Monday. “We still need some discussion between the states and the National Park Service. A signing could take place at this meeting. But it’s not on the agenda yet.”
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee includes representatives from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington’s state wildlife management departments, all the federal wildlife agencies involved in Endangered Species work (such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management), and others like Indian tribal governments and Canadian officials.
They monitor the recovery of grizzly bears in several distinct population segments. In addition to the Yellowstone area, about 1,000 grizzlies inhabit the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem from Glacier National Park to Missoula, and tiny populations exist in the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and North Cascades mountain ranges. While no permanent resident bears are known in the Bitterroot Mountains, the Montana-Idaho border area is included in the IGBC overview because of its high-quality habitat and proximity to other major bear populations.
This week’s two-day meeting will get updates from the biologists monitoring all those population groups, and then discuss how close the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem bears are to delisting from federal protection. Much of that discussion revolves around public acceptance of new ways to record bear numbers in the wild. Different statistical models give larger or smaller estimates, and a new method showing higher-than-previously believed bear populations has raised some concerns.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Manager Ken McDonald said the science behind the population estimates was sound, and fears that future hunting seasons might kill too many bears for species survival were unfounded.
“We feel very confident that bears are recovered and will be managed so they stay recovered,” McDonald said. “There are lots of safeguards in place to assure that. We don’t want to risk recovery and delisting and then have to put them back on the Endangered Species List.”
But Losinski said some members of the IGBC remain uncommitted to the newer population estimates, especially for bears around national parks. The problem is if the estimates are too high, and then too many grizzlies die from hunting, roadkill, management incidents or even poor food years, a population could crash or lose genetic diversity with little warning.
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.