If grizzly bears are delisted and hunting is authorized, Montana’s season will be so restrictive that the state will not allow the shooting of any bear traveling with another bear to avoid killing a female.
“The take-home for the hunting season is that it would be very conservative and designed to limit the harvest of females,” said John Vore, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Management Bureau chief.
To that end, season dates would also be designed to protect females. Since sows with cubs emerge from dens later in the spring and go into hibernation earlier in the fall than males, Montana is proposing its spring season to run between March 15 and April 20 and the fall season between Nov. 10 and Dec. 15.
The rough outline of the proposed season, mandated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is contained in an agenda item for next Thursday’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, which will start at 8 a.m. in FWP’s Montana WILD building next to Spring Meadow Lake in Helena.
Montanans have not hunted grizzly bears since 1991. The animals were listed as a threatened species in 1975 and were protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Whether to even hold a grizzly hunting season will be decided at the end of each year. At that time wildlife officials from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho will review all grizzly bear mortalities, from natural deaths to collisions with cars and bears removed for killing livestock. If the mortalities exceed certain preset limits, no season will be held.
If there is an allowed harvest it would be split among the three states, likely with Wyoming having a larger take because it contains more Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear habitat, Vore explained. Montana contains 27 percent of the GYE’s grizzly habitat.
The tristate harvest limits would be hammered out each year by wildlife officials from the states.
Vore said there would be no attempt in Montana to allow hunters to remove what’s known as management bears, those that are causing problems. That was tried in the past and met criticism for not being a fair-chase hunt and therefore unsportsmanlike.
Jane Goodall, the noted African chimpanzee researcher, is the latest to add her voice to a chorus of opponents to a GYE grizzly bear hunt.
“…Their future isn’t secure yet, because they face so many threats to their survival,” she said in an email released by the Humane Society.
Goodall is among 58 scientists who submitted a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday objecting to the agency’s proposal to remove protection for GYE grizzlies. Public comment is being taken on the USFWS proposal until May 10. Critics have said the agency’s 60-day comment period is too brief to review all of the voluminous documents.
Montana would carve its portion of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear habitat into seven management units that would range east from the Montana-Idaho border to Butte, and then south to the Wyoming border and include the Beartooth Mountains. Each unit will have its own harvest quota. If the quota is reached the unit would be closed.
“We don’t want a whole bunch of bears coming out of any one place,” Vore explained.
Other restrictions Montana has proposed include: Making it illegal to take a bear in its den; a mandatory hunter orientation course for license holders; a 12-hour reporting period for harvests and mandatory check within two days; and the closure of a season would occur within 24 hours of reaching either the female quota or the male quota.
A Montana grizzly bear license would cost $150, $1,000 for nonresidents. But in most years it would be unlikely that any nonresident licenses would be issued since they are only given out at a rate of 10 percent of the resident licenses issued.
The licenses would be issued through a drawing. Anyone drawing a grizzly license would have to wait another seven years to apply again. If a hunter shot a grizzly it is a once-in-a-lifetime trophy, the hunter would not be allowed to apply for a license in Montana again.
“These are very conservative regulations with a capital V,” Vore said.
Any hunting season is also reliant on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s pending decision, which is likely to be challenged in court by wildlife advocates. So Montana’s first grizzly bear hunting season in decades could still be a long ways off, if ever.
Public comment on FWP’s proposed season will be taken at the Thursday commission meeting and remain open through 5 p.m. on June 17. The commission will take final action on the grizzly bear hunting proposals at its July meeting.