Volume 5, Number 35 - November 24, 2005
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Last Thursday’s edition of the Federal Register included a draft rule proposing to remove the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bear population from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife.
The rulemaking first designates the tri-state Yellowstone bear population a “distinct population segment” which can then be treated separately from other grizzly bear populations.
In defining Yellowstone as a DPS, delisting can proceed for Yellowstone, without regard to the federally protected status of grizzlies in other populations, such as the Northern Continental Divide of northcentral Montana, the North Cascades region of Washington, the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and the Cabinet-Yaak area of northwest Montana. Each of these grizzly populations have delineated recovery zones, but with Yellowstone’s DPS designation, delisting can proceed for this area without regard to the status of the other populations.
In designating the Yellowstone DPS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted: “Based on our analysis of the best available scientific information, we find that the Yellowstone area grizzly population and the other remaining grizzly bear populations are markedly separated from each other. This contention is supported by evidence of physical separation between populations and evidence of genetic discontinuity.”
FWS cited several reasons to justify the distinctness of Yellowstone bears, including the fact that they exist in a unique ecosystem and its high reliance on meat from large animals in its diet, compared to bears in other populations which have higher percentages of plant, insects and fish in their diets. In addition, the Yellowstone bear population has been separated from other bear populations for at least 100 years, so it is genetically distinct.
The proposed rule defines suitable habitat for Yellowstone’s bears to include all of northwestern Wyoming, south through the Bridger-Teton National Forest in the Wind River Range, but excluding the Wyoming Range. Suitable habitat was defined as having three characteristics: being of adequate habitat quality and quantity to support grizzly bear reproduction and survival; contiguous with current distribution of current population; and having low mortality risk as indicated through reasonable and manageable levels of grizzly bear/human conflicts.
Upon delisting, management decisions on national forest lands will continue to consider potential impacts on grizzly habitat and will be managed to allow grizzly bear expansion in terms of numbers and distribution, FWS noted, including within a 8,800-square mile area outside the current recovery zone. This area includes 150 active cattle allotments and 12 active sheep allotments.
“Although state management plans apply to all suitable habitat (outside the current recovery zone), habitat management on public lands is directed by federal land management plans, not state management plans,” the rule stated.
Grizzly bears would remain a “sensitive species” on the U.S. Forest Service sensitive species list for planning purposes.
State management plans will guide grizzly management upon delisting, but are part of an overall management scheme developed by federal planning efforts.
FWS concluded, “The Yellowstone DPS now represents a viable population that has sufficient numbers and distribution of reproductive individuals to provide a high likelihood that the species will continue to exist and be well distributed throughout its range and additional suitable habitat for the foreseeable future.”
As part of the process for delisting, FWS is planning to finalize its grizzly bear conservation strategy; append habitat-based recovery criteria to the grizzly recovery plan; append genetic monitoring information to the recovery plan; and finalize revised methodology for calculating total population size, known and unknown mortality ratios and sustainable mortality limits for the Yellowstone bear population. The revised methodology pertaining to population parameters will be subject to public review and comment. It will be finalized before the final delisting rule is published, according to FWS.
Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until Feb. 15, 2006.
A public hearing will be held Jan. 10, 2006, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Cody auditorium, 1240 Beck Avenue in Cody.
Open houses will be held at the following locations in Wyoming:
• Jan. 10 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Cody auditorium in Cody.
• Jan. 11 from 4 to 8 p.m.at the Snow King Resort in Jackson.
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