Grizzlies De-Listed In Yellowstone Region

Hunting Seasons May Return, But Not Soon

Billings Gazette, Bear Hunting Magazine

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Yellowstone grizzly bears stepped into a new era at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

That is when the rule to remove them from the endangered species list officially took effect.

Not that the bears caught on. The switch - the product of 30 years of recovery efforts - will do little to change the immediate management of the 500 or so grizzlies that live in and around Yellowstone National Park.

"The bears are noticing no difference," said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For many, delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly is a major success story under the Endangered Species Act. When the bears were first listed in 1975, there were between 136 and 312 in the Yellowstone ecosystem, according to government estimates. But in recent years, the population has been growing and rebounded enough to remove it from the endangered list, federal officials said.

Conservation strategy

The change means bears will be managed under a "conservation strategy" approved by state agencies in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming along with the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

The plan governs the treatment of bears and bear habitat over 9,200 square miles. Delisting also means state agencies can authorize grizzly bear hunts. Game agencies in Montana and Idaho have expressed an interest in a hunt but have said it's not going to happen immediately.

Servheen said state and federal agencies have been working with the conservation strategy, so Monday's switch is mostly bureaucratic and symbolic. "It's all pretty seamless," he said.

Chris Smith, chief of staff for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said management of bears on Monday wasn't much different. "The change between yesterday, today and tomorrow with respect to grizzly bears down there is much more visible and significant to bureaucrats than to anybody else," he said.

The process, though, is far from over. Several environmental groups in early April said they planned to sue over delisting within two months. They have said delisting the Yellowstone grizzlies is premature because of threats to the population's long-term survival such as global warming, human development and concerns over habitat.

There are other, longer-term issues, including how the management of Yellowstone grizzlies will be paid for. Monitoring, management and other post-delisting activities will cost about $3.7 million a year. There is some funding in federal budgets this year and next but, so far, no set idea about who will foot the bill in the years to come.

For Montana, managing grizzly bears will cost $400,000 to $500,000 per year in the near future and could top $1 million per year down the road, Smith said.

A national trust fund for grizzly bear management will be one of the topics of discussion at the next Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting. Monday's delisting of the Yellowstone grizzlies does not affect other grizzly populations in Montana and Idaho.

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