Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing not to hunt grizzly bears in southwest Montana this year, but still retain its share of the discretionary mortality, per the agreement with the states of Wyoming and Idaho.
This proposal will be before the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission at their regular meeting Feb. 15.
Hunting and discretionary mortality
Grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone area were removed from the Endangered Species List last year following a 40-year recovery effort. Part of the delisting process was an agreement on managing the greater Yellowstone grizzlies between the three states. Additionally, all three states had to individually approve a framework for a grizzly bear hunting season for their states. The agreement between Idaho, Montana and Wyoming outlined how discretionary mortality for hunting, would be divided – Wyoming, which has the most habitat within the delisting area, would receive the most, followed by Montana and then Idaho.
The grizzly management plan for the Yellowstone area and the agreement between the states, outlines the total allowable mortality of independent male and female bears, and dependent young, based on the population, that can occur in a year within the states or Yellowstone National Park. This could include management actions for conflict bears or hunting. The total discretionary mortality for hunting within the Yellowstone area, between the three states, is restricted by established percentages of the estimated population size and documented mortalities from the previous year.
This year that means Montana has a discretionary mortality for hunting of .9 females and 5.8 males.
Why Montana isn’t hunting grizzly bears
FWP director, Martha Williams, has consistently stated that Montana won’t be hunting grizzly bears.
“Our focus, now they are delisted, is managing these iconic species for long term recovery and at the same time having the ability to respond to conflicts in the Yellowstone ecosystem,” Williams said.
“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” Williams said. “We also are continuing to work hard at responding proactively to bear conflicts and educating people and communities in grizzly country how to be bear aware.”
Additionally, with challenges to the grizzly bear delisting rule already working their way through the courts, a hunting season seems likely to complicate those proceedings.
The department is bringing the issue before the Commission now to clarify the process in this first year of delisting of how it will propose or not propose a hunting season for grizzly bears. However, the question may not come before the Commission again unless the department decides to recommend a grizzly bear hunting season.
The Commission meeting will be at Montana WILD in Helena starting at 8:30. It will also be streamed live online and by video conferencing to FWP regional offices around the state. For more information, go online to fwp.mt.gov and click on Commission.