Wyoming is preparing to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to release the Yellowstone area grizzly bear from Endangered Species Act protection and return them, once again, to state management.
Gov. Mark Gordon said the bears have recovered well beyond minimum numbers, to the point where more than 1,000 bears have now been documented in the region. He and Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik both mentioned in a Thursday news conference instances where grizzly bears had been spotted around Cody or farther east to show how the growth of bears has caused them to range farther.
They said that, having addressed the two main issues raised in the 9th Circuit Court ruling to support relisting, they are confident the federal government will consent to the request.
“We are very excited about the day, it does mark the successful recovery of the grizzly bear,” Gordon said. “We have seen monumental success.”
The announcement follows 46 years and more than $52 million spent by the state in managing the grizzly recovery. Grizzly bears, by all measures, have been fully recovered since 2003, Gordon said.
“This is a notable day of celebration not only for the grizzly bear, but for Wyoming. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear has met and exceeded all scientific benchmarks for recovery,” Gordon said. “We have proved time and time again that we are experts in wildlife conservation for our state’s valued and iconic species. It’s time for grizzly bears to be returned fully to the states for management, as our citizens have supported recovery efforts and seen monumental success.”
Wyoming already has a grizzly bear management plan in place, and it will be amended to recognize the necessary legal requirements to satisfy the Endangered Species Act requirements for post-delisting management.
Wyoming intends to directly address concerns raised by the courts in the 2017 delisting. The state is amending grizzly bear management policies that will adjust the annual management and mortality targets. Wyoming also intends to use and update plans to recognize the updated population model now adopted by grizzly bear experts. Last, the state is committed to the bear’s long-term genetic health and will provide for translocation of bears into the population, as needed to maintain genetic diversity.
“This isn’t are first time riding this horse,” Nesvik said. “The bear in the GYE has been delisted by Bush, Obama and the Trump administration, or at least the processes have been initiated by all three of those. I think we’ve got sufficient proof.”
Even if the Fish and Wildlife Service deems after a 90-day check that the delisting is warranted, there would then be a one-year study period before a final ruling would be handed down.
Grizzly bears were last delisted in 2017 before being re-listed the following year, a day before a hunt for as many as 22 grizzly bears was set to begin.
Nesvik said it was too early to say how the recalibration, which has identified far more grizzlies than previously counted, would affect a possible hunt.
“The new model reflects far more grizzlies,” he said. “That will affect what the upper limit of mortality could be in the future. But that’s quite a ways down the road, a year, two or three.”