Nine-tenths of a grizzly sow and 5.9 “independent male” grizzlies will live another year in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem without being pursued by trophy hunters.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission made the decision last Thursday to forego a Yellowstone grizzly hunt in 2018.
The fractions of bear allocation were derived from an agreement between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The three-state pact sets up a structure for determining how many Yellowstone grizzlies must survive to maintain the species and how many could be hunted now that the bears have been removed from the federal endangered species status. Based on an official 2017 estimate of 718 bears in the management region, the agreement would allow a possible hunting quota of 17 males and 2.5 females. Montana’s share of the quota is 34 percent because that’s the portion of the management area in the state.
“This is not a decision to not ever have a hunting season,” Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion of Livingston said. "There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved before our department spends a significant amount of resources setting up a season. This retains maximum flexibility moving forward into an increasingly difficult situation.”
The commission followed the recommendation of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
“Our focus, now they are delisted, is managing the iconic species for long-term recovery and at the same time having the ability to respond to conflicts in the Yellowstone ecosystem,” Montana FWP Director Martha Williams said in a news release before the commission meeting.
“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long-term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” Williams said, adding that FWP is working to prevent human-bear conflicts and to educate people in bear country how to be bear aware.
If the commission had approved a hunt, the taking of even one female grizzly would have ended the season for all. The hunter opportunity would have been very limited.
Multiple lawsuits filed by conservation and Native American groups are challenging the delisting. At this point, plans for a hunt could get entangled with efforts to get the bears relisted.
Now that the states are in charge of Yellowstone area grizzly management, they must show that they are capable of maintaining the population at a healthy level. Montana is demonstrating that it will make balanced decisions that prevent the bear population from dwindling in the park and in the vast, mountainous national forests that surround Yellowstone.
So far, Idaho hasn’t decided whether to have a Yellowstone grizzly hunt this year. Wyoming Game and Fish Department is drafting hunting regulations at the direction of its commission, which is expected to consider final hunting regulations at a May 23 meeting in Lander, Wyoming.
Kudos to Montana’s wildlife managers for having the wisdom to avoid rushing into a hunt in the first year after delisting. The grizzlies living in Yellowstone, who sometimes range out of the park, are valuable for millions of park visitors who arrive from all over the world wanting to see wild animals in their natural habitat.
Montana is staking out a smart start on successful long-term grizzly management. Wyoming and Idaho should follow its lead.