Volume 4, Number 34 - November 18, 2004
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Grizzly meeting tonight: occupancy zone to increase 65 percent!
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will host a public meeting tonight, Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. in the Rendezvous Pointe Senior Center to discuss its new plan for grizzly bear occupancy in Wyoming. Provisions of the occupancy proposal would take effect only when and if the grizzly bear is removed from the list of federally protected species. Once finalized, the occupancy proposal will become part of Wyoming’s grizzly bear management plan.
To prepare the proposal, WG&F reported that it compiled appropriate indicators of suitable grizzly bear habitat, such as available grizzly bear food sources, secure habitats, potential denning areas, and potential core areas, including movement corridors. This information delineated the area where grizzly bears could be biologically supported. Once biologically suitable habitat was delineated, existing human uses such as livestock allotments, developed recreational sites, conflict sites, and other existing human use areas were mapped and compared to the suitable habitat index.
The basis of the WG&F proposal is that certain areas within the outer boundary of grizzly bear occupancy in the state management plan are areas where grizzly bear density should be low because these areas are not biologically suitable and/or socially acceptable for high grizzly densities. The outer boundary includes Cody, Meeteetse, Thermopolis, Riverton, Lander, Pinedale and Kemmerer.
WG&F reports, “Given this, this proposal outlines a management approach to identify these areas and manage for low grizzly bear densities in these areas.”
All human-caused grizzly bear mortalities within the entire outer boundary of the proposal will still be counted and managed as for mortality management criteria, and efforts to minimize and prevent human-bear conflicts will still occur throughout this area where bears occur.
The proposal establishes a Grizzly Bear Conservation Area (GBCA) including both the Primary Conservation Area (PCA) and a Secondary Conservation Area (SCA).
WG&F reports: “Grizzly occupancy in the conservation area will occur by natural dispersal. All human-caused bear mortalities within the GBCA and outer occupancy boundary, to be called the Grizzly Bear Data Analysis Unit boundary in the future, will be counted and maintained within allowable thresholds that were developed in the conservation strategy for the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Area.”
Once the distribution goals as outlined in the conservation strategy have been met, mortality thresholds will be adjusted to stabilize bear numbers and distribution in the areas where the distribution goals have been met.
Generally speaking, grizzly bear survival is positively related to remoteness from human activity, according to WG&F. “This is largely due to human conflicts resulting in grizzlies being lethally removed from the population. Thus, the development of occupancy goals in Wyoming should not only consider habitat attributes necessary to sustain grizzlies, but must also include consideration of human activity where conflicts are likely to reduce social acceptability and management actions will be necessary. As of 2000, grizzlies in Wyoming occupied much of the region north of Jackson, around Dubois, and west of Meeteetse and Cody. There has been recent expansion southward into the upper Green River region and northwest end of the Wind River Range.
“Within currently occupied habitat, human conflicts outside national parks and wilderness areas consist primarily of property damage, access to human foods, and livestock depredation,” WG&F reported.
“While grizzly depredation on cattle is not uncommon and significant losses can occur, relatively few bears become habitual predators of cattle. Selective removal of offending individuals has been shown to be successful in resolving these conflicts. Sheep allotments, however, pose a greater threat to grizzly bear survival than most other human activities. Thus, grizzly bear occupancy relative to sheep allotments must be considered. Within the Greater Yellowstone Area, there are livestock allotments throughout much of the National Forest System lands excluding some wilderness areas. Following recent closures, most active sheep allotments are in the Wyoming Range and the southern end of the Wind River Range.”
In considering potential grizzly bear habitat relative to areas of human activity in the GYA, WG&F proposes a GBCA that encompasses the Greater Yellowstone Area north of the Snake River Canyon and Hoback River, which includes a contiguous region bounding the Absaroka Range and the northern half of the Wind River Range.
The Wyoming and Salt River Ranges were not included in the GBCA because of numerous active sheep allotments, high road densities, high levels of potential oil and gas development, and potential for future timber harvest.
“Additionally, there is a significant amount of dispersed recreation in the summer and fall, especially during the hunting seasons, and there are no designated wilderness areas in this region of the ecosystem,” WG&F reported. “The southern end of the Wind River Range was also not included because of the prevalence of active sheep allotments, high levels of dispersed recreation, especially summer backpacker use, and the periphery and southern portions are heavily roaded.”
WG&F continued: “Based on the human use criteria presented, the Upper Green River area … could also be excluded from the GBCA. Important biological issues, however, make the Upper Green River area very important in ensuring conservation strategy population and distribution objectives will be met over the long term. The Upper Green River area is presently occupied by grizzly bears and is an important movement corridor between the Gros Ventre/Upper Hoback area and the Upper Wind River Range. “
Maintaining this connectivity to the upper Wind River Range is essential for meeting occupancy goals for the upper portion of this area and providing needed management flexibility. This does not preclude managing for low bear densities in this portion of the GBCA, if high conflict levels continue. The proposed GBCA increases the amount of habitat suitable for grizzly occupancy by 65 percent compared to the Primary Conservation Area from which grizzly bear numbers have increased since the late 1980s. The proposed GBCA will provide a sufficient amount of habitat in Wyoming to adequately support Wyoming’s share of the tri-state Yellowstone population objective of at least 500 bears. It also provides additional grizzly bear habitat should important food sources become reduced within the PCA.”
WG&F reported: “The intent of this analysis is not to create a “no bear zone” outside the proposed GBCA. Bears will not recognize a jurisdictional boundary and will attempt to move outside the GBCA where biologically suitable habitat exists. It is recognized that transient grizzly bears will occur outside the GBCA, and portions of overlapping home ranges may occur outside the GBCA. The Department will not implement a management program where every bear that moves out of the GBCA will be subject to immediate take. All types of human caused mortality will be regulated as described in the next section. The Department recognizes that the exclusion of the southern Wind Rivers and the Wyoming Range are based on existing human uses that will make re-establishing a viable population in these areas difficult. Management of wildlife populations and the habitat they require is a dynamic process and changes will undoubtedly occur in the future. Grizzly bear management strategies will be reevaluated if conditions change in the future that warrant further analysis.”
Inside the GBCA
Upon de-listing and state management plans taking effect, mortality thresholds will be established that ensure the maintenance of the conservation strategy population objective of more than 500 bears. Once distribution and population objectives have been met in the GBCA, mortality thresholds will be reevaluated to support population and distribution objectives following consultation with appropriate state and federal agencies.
Mortalities will be managed based on the best available science and in coordination with all management agencies.
Annual mortality quotas will be set within established thresholds, through a WG&F Commission-approved grizzly bear hunting regulation that will be developed through the normal hunting season public review process and consultation with cooperating state and federal agencies. Females with dependent young at side (cubs-of-the-year, yearlings) will be protected in any hunter harvest. To minimize nuisance management, efforts to prevent and/or reduce bear human conflicts will continue in all areas within the outer boundary where grizzly bears occur. In an effort to reduce bear-human conflicts where prevention or reduction efforts are not completely successful, harvest mortalities will be directed to areas of highest nuisance activity.
Outside the GBCA
WG&F intends to apply the population and mortality standards included in the federal conservation strategy to the entire population, regardless of where grizzly bears occur. WG&F acknowledges that the level of human caused mortality outside the GBCA adjacent to the boundary will potentially affect that portion of the population that resides within the GBCA adjacent to the boundary.
To assure that population and distribution goals within the GBCA are met, the department will count females with cubs to assess population size and any human caused mortalities that occur outside the GBCA,” WG&F stated. Mortalities will be applied to the mortality thresholds for the entire population.
Human caused mortality will consist primarily of hunter harvest and case-by-case conflict resolution. Mortality will be higher than inside the GBCA because the intent is to manage those habitats outside the GBCA at low densities.
“However, we acknowledge that exclusion of grizzly bears outside the GBCA will not be possible,” WG&F stated. “In the portion of the GBCA bisecting potentially suitable habitat that is currently deemed socially unacceptable (the Wyoming Range, the southern Wind Rivers, and on private property adjacent to the GBCA), grizzly bears will likely disperse outside the GBCA. Management flexibility will be increased in these areas in an effort to maintain low bear densities.”
The potential outer occupancy boundary established in the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan would remain and be referred to in the future as the grizzly bear data analysis unit boundary. Grizzly bears that occur outside this boundary will be dealt with on an individual basis. If necessary, bears outside this area will be removed from the population, and those removals will not count against the mortality threshold, according to the proposal.
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