CHEYENNE - By killing grizzly bears, Wyoming should be able to determine where the animals live, federal officials told Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners Thursday.
The state will be able to direct grizzly bear mortality - once the animal is removed from federal protection and management is largely turned over to the state - to manage for lower densities of bears in areas including the Salt and Wyoming ranges, the head of the federal grizzly bear recovery program told commissioners.
In the three-state area where bears have been proposed for delisting, Wyoming will receive the majority of the grizzly bear mortality allowed under recovery rules, based on occupied habitat, officials said.
The state will be able to "parcel and direct" bear mortality to areas with high conflict potential, high mortality risks and dwindling habitat and food sources, based on the best science available, federal officials said.
Wyoming will also be able to swap bear mortality thresholds with Idaho and Montana when necessary and agreed upon by the states, which could mean more hunting opportunities for Wyoming sportsmen.
Under the recently published draft delisting rule, the state can use its allocated mortality threshold for grizzly bears to help determine where grizzly bears would be allowed in much of Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park's primary conservation area, said Chris Servheen with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"As long as (bear) mortality percentages are within the (federal conservation strategy) limits … the state will have the ability to direct mortality in areas where it wants to manage for lower densities of grizzly bears," Servheen said in a conference call with commissioners.
"You have the discretion to direct mortality to those areas you see as necessary," he said. "If Wyoming wants more mortality, it can trade in mortality, if you will, with the other states."
Game and Fish Department directors want the state to determine where grizzly bears will be allowed in Wyoming once the animal's federal protections are removed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Fish and Wildlife Service posted a delisting rule in November that could result in grizzly bears being delisted by the end of the year, Servheen said. Officials estimate there are about 600 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area.
Because of the potential for conflict with humans, Wyoming officials have determined that grizzlies most likely won't be allowed in the Salt and Wyoming ranges in western Wyoming, nor in the southern part of the Wind River Mountains.
While parts of those area may be "biologically suitable" under the federal recovery conservation strategy, the department believes their presence there wouldn't be "socially acceptable."
Servheen said the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a 9 percent annual mortality limit for female grizzly bears and a 15 percent mortality limit for male bears. He said the 91 percent female survival level is the highest level needed to keep the grizzly bear population stable or increasing in the future.
Servheen said each state gets a percentage of the available mortality based on occupied habitat, and Wyoming, with the majority of occupied habitat, will get 49 percent of the allowable bear mortality.
"The new system gives the states the ability to parcel out that mortality amongst themselves," he said.
"Montana, it appears, wants to increase its (overall) bear population, and Idaho wants to increase it some areas," Servheen said. "So from state discussions … you could parcel out more mortality limits" for Wyoming.
The commission approved a state grizzly management plan in February 2002. Under the plan, the department would continue to classify grizzly bears as trophy game animals and allow the hunting of grizzlies under commission-approved seasons.
Reporter Jeff Gearino can be reached at 307-875-5359 or at email@example.com.