Grizzly Bear Managers Monitor Bear DeathsWyoming Game & Fish Department, Bear Hunting Magazine
At their spring meeting in Bozeman, managers of member agencies that make up the Yellowstone Grizzly Coordinating Committee (YGCC) heard the results from a special task force created to study the factors leading to grizzly bear deaths in 2008.
As part of the requirements for removal from the threatened and endangered species list, the YGCC set maximum targets or "quotas" for acceptable numbers of annual grizzly bears deaths throughout the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Both male and female mortality quotas in the Yellowstone Ecosystem were exceeded last year.
"Although we work very hard every year to reduce bear mortalities and over the long term mortalities have remained low, we felt it was important to review our efforts as a precautionary measure in light of the increased mortality in 2008," said YGCC member and WGFD assistant wildlife chief Bill Rudd. "Despite the observed spikes in mortality that we have observed over the past 15 years the population continued to increase."
The YGCC also heard a review of preventative steps proposed by a similar task force in 2004 after a spike in bear deaths. Along with the 2009 and 2004 reviews, the committee was also presented with a list of potential actions that could help reduce mortalities.
Caribou-Targhee forest supervisor and YGCC chairman Larry Timchak said it was clear that a wide range of factors contributed to the mortality limits being exceeded. "While bear managers were watching what appeared to be a typical year, review of climatic data and information regarding the availability of key grizzly food sources shows that by the fall elk seasons, the bears were poised for conflicts with humans because of the delayed negative impacts of lingering winter snows and a poor whitebark pine cone crop," Timchak said.
The team also noted another reason more bears have died is simply because there are more bears in the ecosystem than at the beginning of the recovery efforts. "We have used a very conservative approach to our bear management over the past 30 years and it has produced the desired results. We now have a recovered population and there are bears in places they have not been for a long time " said Rudd.
In addition to discussing the variety of ways that bears died, the task force also provided the committee with ideas to serve as starting points for reducing mortalities in the future. Last year an abnormally high number of bears deaths were linked to big game hunters, so many of the suggestions dealt with educating hunters about safety in bear country and encouraging those heading into the woods to carry bear spray. Mark Bruscino, WGFD grizzly bear conflict specialist, said the WGFD added a number of suggestions to try and reduce mortalities as part of the review conducted by the YGCC. "We will add these to the score of practices and recommendations we have already in place. Unfortunately, as densities of grizzly bears continue to increase, the likelihood for human-bear interactions also goes up. Our goal is to create an environment that is safe for bears and people."
Chuck Schwartz, leader of the interagency grizzly bear study team, has observed spikes in mortality before. "One year does not a trend make," cautioned Schwartz. Timchak added that bear mortality numbers will be monitored closely and said: "We will do whatever possible to prevent grizzlies from dying needlessly." The YGCC will review the report and recommendations for decreasing mortality. It will be up to individual agencies to decide what solutions are workable within the framework of their particular governmental unit.
A component of all the state grizzly bear management plans accepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was that some form of limited hunting opportunity could eventually occur. Committee members are carefully monitoring grizzly bear mortalities and their causes to assess the potential for hunter harvest.
A copy of the initial draft of the 2009 Yellowstone Mortality and Conflict Reduction Report can be viewed at http://www.igbonline.org/YellowstoneMortalityReport2008draft1.pdf.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department assumed management of grizzly bears in 2007, after the bears were removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Today, Wyoming is managing grizzlies in cooperation with the Yellowstone Grizzly Coordinating Committee, a group of state, federal, tribal, and local representatives overseeing grizzly bears throughout the Yellowstone ecosystem. For more information about grizzly bears in Wyoming, visit: /wildlife/grizzlymanagement/index.asp.