A group of federal and state wildlife managers approved the updated management plan for grizzly bear delisting at a meeting in Cody on Wednesday. The Conservation Strategy is a big step toward delisting, since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended delisting. But, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk voted against it, and a Sierra Club spokeswoman reminded the group grizzly numbers are declining.
In the early 1970s, grizzly numbers were dangerously low in the Yellowstone area. There were about 136 bears left in the wild. So, the grizzly was put on the endangered species list as threatened.
Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and federal agency managers have worked for decades to help recover the species. The interagency group called the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee or (YES) met in Cody to vote on the Conservation Strategy.
YES members negotiated in recent weeks, to iron out the final details of the management plan. Among the details: which scientific method to use to estimate bear numbers.
The current method estimates 690 grizzlies in the ecosystem. Another suggests there may be hundreds more. The group decided to adopt the more conservative estimator: Chao 2 for now, and for the foreseeable future.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service YES representative Jodi Bush said, “We’re going to use Chao 2, which is a population estimator to measure the population over time for the foreseeable future. And by that we mean as long as we can picture it right now.”
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk told the group he had a problem with the revisions. Then, he cast the only no vote on the Conservation Strategy.
He explained, “There’s not enough specificity within the Conservation Strategy that I understand and know fully what stable population means going forward…I just wanted to see if a new method is developed that is determined to be a more accurate estimator, what impact that might have on long term grizzly bear population and discretionary mortality.”
Sierra Club representative Bonnie Rice was the last to comment publicly at the YES meeting. She says the group is ignoring declining grizzly numbers.
“In 2014 the population was estimated at 757 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region. Last year it was down to 717. This year, what we heard yesterday was 690 bears.”
Rice says more than 100,000 Sierra Club members submitted written comments on the delisting proposal. YES members are going through those comments now, to prepare for the delisting proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.