From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 37 - December 8, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Delisting rule needs clarification

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department plans to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise its proposed rule for delisting the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone region to clarify the issue of suitable bear habitat.

FWS's rule included a map providing that suitable bear habitat includes the Wind River Mountain Range, although the WG&F's state management plan deleted this area. The state plan notes that although some portions of western Wyoming may contain biologically suitable habitat for grizzly bears, not all of that habitat is "socially acceptable" for grizzlies. Taking this into consideration, WG&F maintains "it appears the biologically suitable and socially acceptable habitats in the Wyoming portion of the Greater Yellowstone Area occur north of the Snake River Canyon and Hoback River, which includes a contiguous region bounding the Absaroka Range and that portion of the Wind River Range north of Boulder Creek."

WG&F maintains in its state plan for management of grizzlies upon delisting that the Wyoming and Salt River ranges are not suitable for grizzly bear occupancy, nor is the portion of the Wind River Range south of Boulder Creek. In addition, "all private lands and most of the lands managed by the BLM outside the national forests have high potential for human/grizzly bear conflicts and a source of grizzly bear mortality making them unsuitable for sustaining grizzly bears."

The state plan also acknowledged that the Upper Green River region, which is already occupied by grizzlies and experiences numerous conflicts every year, "could also be considered unsuitable for grizzly bear occupancy," but the area is significant in ensuring long-term bear distribution and population objectives. Recognizing the area's importance, the state plan noted, "this does not preclude managing for low bear densities" to minimize conflicts.

But the FWS delisting rule includes about 8,800 square miles of "suitable habitat" outside the current grizzly bear recovery zone, including the Wind River Range, with the exception of domestic sheep allotments on the western edge of the range.

The final rule notes, "Management decisions on U.S. ForestService lands will continue to consider potential impacts on grizzly bear habitat and will be managed so as to allow grizzly bear expansion in terms of numbers and distribution."

In contrast, the state bear occupancy plan states: "There are large blocks of public and private land outside of (the current recoveryzone) that are not suitable for grizzly bear occupancy. Grizzly bear dispersal and occupancy will be discouraged in these areas."

While that might be WG&F's intention, FWS's proposed rule notes, "Although state management plans apply to all suitable habitat outside the primary conservation area, habitat management on public lands is directed by federal land management plans, not state management plans."

While WG&F bear specialist Mark Bruscino said WG&F is excited that the proposed delisting rule has been published, inching delisting one step closer to reality, the state will have specific suggestions for improving the rule.

WG&F's John Emmerich said after a preliminary internal review of the rule, the department feels that the rule will need to be clarified to address the suitable habitat issue.

"There needs to be additional clarification," he said, because there are some areas included in the FWS proposal where WG&F will discourage grizzly bear occupancy.

Bruscino pointed out that the state plan demonstrates the state's commitment to maintaining a healthy grizzly bear population that will be managed as other game species.

WG&F will hold an internal meeting to discuss concerns with the federal rulemaking in January, and will then propose specific comments to the WG&F Commission at its meeting in February, Emmerich said.

FWS is accepting comments on the proposal through Feb. 15, 2006.

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