New Grizzly Management draft seeks balance with communities

Photo by FWP Biologist Shawn Stewart “Comin’ to your town, to help you party around”



How do you manage a grizzly? Very carefully. Montana FWP (FWP) staff recently traveled the southern half of the state presenting open forums on grizzly bear management. Its plan for southern Montana is now released. FWP Non-game Management Bureau Chief Lauri Hanauska-Brown said, “The plan is a draft. Our recommended action is status quo management.” In 2002, FWP developed the original grizzly bear management plan and programmatic environmental impact statement for grizzly bear management in southwest Montana. They were effective for ten years to 2012. This draft would replace it. In 2007, the federal Final Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Greater Yellowstone Area was published. Hanauska-Brown said the state had input in the strategy. At this point, she said federal delisting of grizzlies pursuant to that plan “is in process for Yellowstone bears” but that there is currently litigation against it. The lawsuit claims inadequate discussion of regulatory provisions regarding the loss of whitebark pine and its effect on the bears. A major source of nutrition for the Yellowstone grizzlies is whitebark pine nuts. A study in the mid-2000s showed whitebark pines had declined by 41 percent. Blister rust killed nearly 750,000 whitebark pines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem alone. Whitebark pines are one of the only species of pine surviving at the high alpine level-a keystone species important for emerging, starving grizzlies in the spring. According to the U.S. Geological Service: “Bears continue to feed on whitebark pine seeds as long as they are available and pine seeds from the previous year's crop can dominate bear diets for the entire next season." Research demonstrated “the importance of red squirrels and whitebark pine seeds to bears in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem” and documented “the critical role of over-wintered nut caches to bear behavior and nutrition... ” The lawsuit seeks to have the rules revisited. The FWP website specifically deals with the goals for managing grizzly bear resources in southwestern Montana: “to provide the people of Montana and visitors with optimum outdoor recreational opportunities emphasizing the tangible and intangible values of wildlife, and the natural and cultural resources in a manner that is consistent with the capabilities and requirements of the resources… ; to perpetuate, enhance, and regulate the wise use of wildlife resources for public benefit now and in the future and to manage for a recovered grizzly bear population in southwestern Montana…that are biologically suitable and socially acceptable.” The grizzly management plan draft may be viewed on FWP’s website. Its forty-four pages covers various options and the current state of grizzlies in Montana. Alternative I (the status quo) manages grizzlies in a manner that allows “for a sustainable, adequately distributed population that is secure and stable enough to meet the provisions of the GYA CS 2007 (federal Greater Yellowstone Area Conservation Strategy) and remain out of federal ESA (Endangered Species Act) protections. FWP commented, “FWP’s preferred approach maintains proactive programs to minimize and prevent human-grizzly conflict and responsive programs that adequately address conflicts when they do arise. It is critical for the maintenance of social acceptance of bears on the landscape that management of human-grizzly conflicts remains a priority for FWP.” Plain speaking, humans must accept grizzlies in their environment or the plan won’t work. A host of suggestions accompany the draft to acclimate the public such as hunter education and advising the public on garbage control and hiking with bear spray. Alternative II is the “no action” alternative. FWP said this is not viable because it is mandated to manage wildlife. Taking no action, it warns, could replace local management with federal and result in limiting recreation opportunities in grizzly habitat to ensure public safety. Greater livestock or property losses may occur. Whether delisted or not, a grizzly can be killed if human life is endangered. Hanauska-Brown noted that “human safety is always the priority” regardless of whether the feds review a grizzly killing or the state (if delisted). For now, the feds have the duty and jurisdiction. Assuming the grizzly delisting proceeds, the state draft contemplates grizzly hunting standards in the Greater Yellowstone Area. “As a state, we think the population is adequate to be delisted,” said Hanauska-Brown. Local Red Lodge FWP Biologist, Shawn Stewart, said as far as local bear numbers: “Interagency (Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team or IGBST) does not keep tabs of individual bears by county. I try to keep track of individuals. For Carbon County in 2013, I can account for about 25 individual grizzlies.” The plan lists eight critical issues for grizzly bear management: 1. Population monitoring; 2. Monitoring unduplicated females; 3. Management research trapping/radio collaring; 4. Estimates of survival; 5. Non-invasive sampling; 6. Current approach; 7. Trends of Grizzly Bear Mortality and 8. Habitat/Habitat Monitoring/Human Use of Bear Habitat. Stewart explained unduplicated females, “Unduplicated females with cubs of the year (COY) is the basis of all population estimates. All locations of females with COY are analyzed against a set of criteria to determine if they are likely duplicates or unduplicated sightings.” He explained, “This gives a minimum estimate for the number of reproductive females in the population.” Climate change has been added as a new ninth category. Possible ways of implementing climate change procedure may include recommendations of warning hunters of later denning periods and earlier times of bears leaving dens in spring. Stewart noted, “Recovery is continuing under the current management plan in conjunction with the threatened species status under the ESA. We expect recovery to continue if the grizzly is delisted.” Comment is open until 5 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 11.