Sunday, July 14, 2024

Seek the truth about grizzly bear management

by By Chris Morgan
| August 16, 2023 1:00 AM

Delisting grizzly bears is becoming a hot topic both in our state and nationwide.

In my opinion, it is also quite possibly the least understood topic in wildlife management today. In the era of nearly every individual having technology at their fingertips it’s astounding that folks don’t ever seem to try to capitalize on it.

When will society start looking for answers instead of relying on receiving our talking points from groups who appear to share our own interests, even though they may be utilizing our emotions to their own benefit?

Let’s start by breaking down the Endangered Species Act. Protections provided by the ESA can be broken down into two major groups: Endangered and threatened.

Endangered is defined as any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened is defined as any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

These classifications were never meant to provide eternal protections, in fact quite the opposite. The goal of the ESA is to make every attempt at recovery to eventually remove animals from a protected status.

Grizzlies in the Lower 48 have been listed as “threatened” since 1975. In 2006 recovery goals had been met for the past six consecutive years and have been ever since. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has attempted to delist grizzlies twice. Both times delisting has been blocked by a federal judge.

If grizzlies are to be delisted, what does that exactly mean?

Absolutely no one has suggested trapping them, and it doesn’t open the floodgates to a hunting season. Far from it.

You see, regardless of what agency is managing them, allowable human-caused mortality numbers do not change. Per the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, the maximum human-caused mortality a grizzly population can withstand without seeing a decline is 6%. To allow growth and account for the unknown, a maximum of 4% for all human-caused mortalities with no more than 30% of which being females is considered acceptable.

For instance, the number of grizzlies in Montana is currently around 1,800-1,900. A 4% reduction of that population would be roughly 72-75 bears removed with a maximum of 22 of them being female. The number of bears removed each year varies greatly, but we often come near that number currently under federal management. With so many external factors involved, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be seeing a hunting season anytime soon unless we see exponential growth.

Now that we’ve discussed what delisting doesn’t do, let’s get to what it does do. Plain and simple, delisting of grizzlies allows state agencies the ability to deal with bear conflicts immediately vs. wading through the red tape that comes with federal oversight. Due to this red tape, we see conflict bears that are repeatedly given chances to adjust their behavior.

Often, these bears then pass these bad habits on to their offspring, creating generational conflicts. Dealing with these conflicts as they arise reduces overall conflicts with bears and promotes growth outside of human interface areas. Reducing issues in these areas leads to a greater overall acceptance of bears on the landscape. No doubt we’ll see fewer grizzly attacks and human deaths. Everyone wins.

Delisting grizzlies based on scientific data is long overdue. The ESA and grizzlies continue to be weaponized by groups intent on preservation, shutting down numerous forms of consumptive use across the state. To get back to wholistic wildlife management the roadblocks that come with grizzlies being listed as threatened need to be removed. This animal has been recovered for over two decades now. It’s time we celebrated this conservation success story.

I’d urge anyone who disagrees with me to look up the grizzly bear recovery plan. Start looking into the sources of the articles you read. Often, they are incredibly biased one way or the other. The truth often resides somewhere in between.

Chris Morgan is Vice President West with Montana Trapper’s Association.