GUEST OPINION: States of Disaster

By on August 23, 2016

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho cannot be trusted to manage grizzlies.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rushes and stumbles toward removing federal protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears, many have questioned whether Wyoming, Montana and Idaho can be trusted to responsibly manage this fragile population.

While the states insist they will carefully manage grizzlies, their joint written comments to the USFWS in May reject most of the mechanisms and monitoring that would ensure they do. These comments, in addition to comments recently made at an interagency meeting in Bozeman, make it quite clear that they do not want to be held accountable in any way for the management of this population.

In their 16 pages of comments, the states make every attempt to remove language that would hold them accountable to the public whom they’ve asked to trust them.

For example, the states don’t want to be governed indefinitely by a conservation strategy that contains specifics for maintaining a healthy grizzly population. Grizzlies are considered to be “conservation reliant,” that is, they are reliant on permanent continuing conservation measures to ensure the populations survival. After five years, however, the states want to throw out virtually all federal oversight.

The states also have chafed at sections of the delisting rule that they say imply a Yellowstone population objective of 674 bears. The states insist that the population should fall within a range from 600 to 747 bears. Arguing this point raises suspicions that the states want the freedom to allow the population to drop to 600. Comments made about “managing downward” at a recent meeting of grizzly managers seem to confirm this.

The states also don’t want to concern themselves with connecting the Yellowstone grizzly population with the Northern Continental Divide population near Glacier National park for genetic diversity.

“This connectivity is not necessary for long-term sustainability of the GYE or NCDE population,” the states wrote in their comments. This ignores the opinions of a number of widely respected non-government scientists who caution that the isolated Yellowstone population eventually will experience issues if genetic interchange does not occur. Many experts believe that connectivity is the single most important factor that would ensure the population’s long term health.

We know that some form of conflict causes roughly 80 percent of grizzly mortalities with people, mostly through encounters with hunters or livestock predation. Not enough is being done to prevent these conflicts. Yet, the states want to remove wording that in part states, “The objective for grizzly bear habitat management is to reduce or mitigate the risk of human-caused mortality.”

How can you propose eliminating those words and continue to say you’ll responsibly manage the bears?

The combined state comments also, curiously, object to sections in the delisting rule that pertain to grizzly hunting.

“The proposed rule appears to assume that all three states will establish hunting seasons,” the comments read. “This assumption is premature, unnecessary and inappropriate.”

Really? All indications are that each state will, indeed, allow grizzly hunting. It would seem the states simply don’t like having it addressed in the delisting rule.

The reason hunting regulations must be covered in the rule is to ensure that the states don’t manage like a bunch of cowboys. It goes back again to what the states are asking from us: trust. They don’t seem to get it.

According to their combined comments, the states also apparently want to aggressively remove bears outside the demographic monitoring area. In these areas where grizzlies apparently are not “socially tolerated,” they would be trapped and killed or hunted. That would include areas like Cody and the Wind River mountains, where bear-cattle conflicts are common, and in the Wyoming Range where there are sheep grazing allotments on public land. Grazing apparently takes precedence over grizzlies due to an ambiguous “social tolerance” argument that is neither scientifically defined nor capable of being monitored.

The states also want to remove from the delisting package the statement that says, “Grizzly bears will not be persecuted just because they are present there.” Apparently the states want to persecute grizzlies.

Given all of the above, can we believe the states when they say they will manage grizzlies responsibly?

Can we really trust them? Trust is earned, not granted.

Roger Hayden is the managing director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates.

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