Bear managers push forward
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
November 6, 2009
Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Coordinating Committee Chairman Steve Schmidt opened the group’s meeting in Jackson last week with a quote from Yogi Berra, "The future ain’t what it used to be."
Schmidt noted that at the group’s last meeting this spring, grizzly bears were two years into delisting, but that changed with a federal judge’s ruling last month.
Federal and state wildlife and land managers from the tri-state Yellowstone area convened in Jackson to discuss the aftermath of a federal court ruling that grizzly bears must remain under federal protection for now. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule delisting grizzlies in the Yellowstone region in early 2007, but last month federal judge Donald Molloy of Montana vacated the rule and enjoined FWS from delisting the bruins. Molloy’s decision was largely based on his view that there are inadequate regulatory mechanisms in place to protect grizzlies in the future.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has requested the court amend or alter its decision, and is awaiting Judge Molloy’s ruling, grizzlies must be treated as a threatened species while the legal issues are being resolved.
FWS Grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen said once Molloy either amends the decision or rejects the request, federal officials will have 60 days to make a decision whether to appeal to a higher court, in this case the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Servheen said federal officials do not agree with the details of Molloy’s ruling, but added that the ruling has "wide ramifications for implementation of the Endangered Species Act throughout the United States." Servheen said if Molloy’s decision stands, "It could be difficult, if not impossible, to delist any species under the Endangered Species Act."
Despite the setback in the federal court system, Chairman Schmidt said: "We can’t withdrawn, we can’t retreat. We must chart a new path forward. Today we begin that process."
Schmidt said: "The grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Area continues to grow, which is a good thing, Along with that growth, we can expect further conflict – conflicts between bears and people, and between bears and livestock."
Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team Leader Chuck Schwartz provided the details from this year’s monitoring efforts throughout the ecosystem, with a total population estimate of 579 bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Schwartz said that the population may be reaching its carrying capacity. Of the 42 unduplicated female grizzlies with cubs of the year documented this year, two of those sows had four-cub litters, 11 sows had triplets, 19 had twins and 10 had singles, Schwartz reported.
There have been 27 known and probable mortalities this year in the tri-state ecosystem, including 23 human-caused mortalities, as of October 26. There were 93 grizzlies captured and handled this year, including 60 research captures and 33 management captures, Schwartz said, with grizzlies occupying all of the 18 bear management units within the ecosystem.Wyoming Game and Fish Department Assistant Wildlife Division Chief Bill Rudd pointed out that as the bear population reaches its carrying capacity, higher levels of mortality may become the norm, a statement to which Schwartz agreed.