Grizzly Bear Comment Period Extended

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The deadline for written comments on the Grizzly Bear Occupancy Management Plan has been extended from Dec. 31 to Jan. 14, 2005.

"We want to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to provide 'thoughtful comments' on our proposal, therefore we are extending the deadline an additional 14 days," said John Emmerich, assistant Wildlife Division chief for the Game and Fish Department.

Nearly 1,100 people attended eleven information meetings in November and December concerning G&F recommendations on how and where the department will manage grizzly bears in Wyoming once the bears are removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The meetings held in Dubois, Riverton and Thermopolis drew the largest crowds--nearly 700 people in all. With this kind of interest, we want to be sure that our proposal is clear to everyone," he said.

The entire grizzly bear occupancy management plan proposal is posted on the G&F’s Web site a href="http://gf.state.wy.us under" target="new">http://gf.state.wy.us under "What's New: Grizzly Bear Occupancy." Comments may be submitted online at gf.state.wy.us/wildlife/GBOccupancy/index.asp or by mail to: Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Attn: Grizzly Bear Occupancy, 5400 Bishop Blvd., Cheyenne, WY 82006.

In an effort to clarify the G&F's proposal, a list of commonly asked questions and answers are provided.

Q: Is the WGFD changing its currently approved state grizzly bear management plan?

A: No. The section on occupancy is being refined based upon a request from the public, the remainder of the plan remains as is.

Q: What is grizzly bear occupancy?

A: Grizzly bear occupancy is the term used by wildlife biologists to describe where grizzly bears presently exist and might appear in the future and how they will be managed, once they are removed from the endangered species list.

Q: How does the draft plan affect private property?

A: Grizzly bear dispersal and occupancy will be discouraged through regulated hunting and agency removal of nuisance bears on private land outside of the GBCA. Essentially, the Department will do all it can to minimize conflicts with domestic livestock and humans through a responsive conflict resolution program and managing for low bear densities.

Q: What does low density mean?

A: Density is a wildlife management term used to describe the number of animals in a given area. In the case of grizzly bear occupancy, low density means very few bears. Bears are difficult to observe and count in the wild. The Department readily admits that it cannot keep all bears in or out of a given area, but it can, through the use of hunting and other management tools discourage bears from occupying some areas and keep them at low numbers.

Q: Why is the Department revising the occupancy section?

A: The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission formally adopted the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan at its February 2002 meeting. After adoption, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (Department) agreed to further refine the grizzly bear occupancy guidelines following public requests to do so. This commitment came after concern was expressed that the occupancy section initially described in the plan was too vague in terms of how bears would be managed within the potential occupancy outer boundary delineated in the Plan. The outer boundary includes significant amounts of private property and habitats that are unsuitable for bear occupancy.

Q: Who drafted the current occupancy draft plan?

A: An internal Department working group drafted the plan. Their effort included an analysis of public opinion gathered during the drafting of the grizzly bear state management plan in 2002, availability of potentially suitable grizzly bear habitat in northwest Wyoming and a review of various human uses that can create nuisance situations between people and bears.

Q: Is the WGFD occupancy management proposal the same as the U.S. Forest Service, Forest Plan Amendments for Grizzly Bear Conservation for the Greater Yellowstone Area Draft Environmental Impact Statement of July 2004?

A: No. Grizzly bear occupancy and the Forest Plan amendments are two separate issues each of which has its own public participation process. The Forest Service proposes to amend six national forest plans of the Greater Yellowstone Area (Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee, Custer, Gallatin, and Shoshone). The purpose of the amendments is to incorporate habitat standards outlined in the Final Conservation Strategy for the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

Q: Is the Department’s proposal one of the Forest Service’s Environmental Impact Statement (E.I.S.) alternatives?

A: No. However, in reviewing the alternatives, the Department’s occupancy proposal most closely aligns with Alternative 2 of the national forests draft E.I.S. Alternative 2, which adopts habitat standards for the primary conservation area only, is also the Forest Service’s preferred alternative-the one they think is most reasonable.

Q: Paid ads in some local newspapers and on some radio stations state that trailheads will be closed, snowmobiling will be curtailed, grazing will be eliminated and other human related recreation will be affected by the Department’ s proposal. Is this true?

A: No. These ads do not accurately reflect the Department’s proposal and have caused a great deal of confusion among readers and listeners. Contained within the Forest Service’s forest plan amendments draft EIS are four alternatives. Much of the information that is contained within the paid advertising comes from Alternative 4. The NEPA EIS process requires identification of a range of alternatives to be analyzed for possible implementation. Alternative 4 was developed in response to public interests that felt their concerns were not addressed in the alternatives considered during the Forest Service scoping process. The Forest Service did an analysis of their concerns and as a result created Alternative 4, which is not the Forest Service’s preferred alternative. The Department also endorsed Alternative 2.

Q: Where will grizzly bears potentially occur under the Department’s proposal?

A: The geographic area described in the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy and designated the Grizzly Bear Data Analysis Unit (GBDAU) in the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan, establishes the outer boundary where grizzly bears could potentially occur. Specifically, it includes an area with an outer boundary beginning at the intersection of Wyoming Highway 120 and the Montana border; southerly along said highway though Cody and Meeteetse to U.S. Highway 20 in Thermopolis; southerly along said highway to Wyoming Highway 789 in Shoshoni; southwesterly along said highway to Wyoming Highway 134; westerly along said highway to Wyoming Highway 132; southerly along said highway to U.S. Highway 287; southeasterly along said highway to Wyoming Highway 28 approximately eight miles south of Lander; southerly along said high to U.S. Highway 191 in Farson; northerly along said highway through Pinedale to U.S. Highway 189; southerly along said highway to U.S. Highway 30 in Kemmerer; west along said highway to the Utah border.

Q: Does the Department intend to allow bears to use all of this geographic area?

A: Absolutely not. The outer boundary, or GBDAU, is simply the most logical line that could be drawn on a map that encompasses the area where a wandering grizzly could show up in the foreseeable future. There are many areas within the GBDAU that are socially unacceptable for grizzly occupancy. Examples are the (Wyoming Range, the southern Wind Rivers, and on private property adjacent to the GBCA). The Department will implement regulated hunting seasons and removal of nuisance bears to discourage dispersal and occupancy in areas designated as socially unacceptable.

Q: How many bears will the WGFD be managing for?

A: According to the Conservation Strategy, the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho must maintain the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear population at a minimum of 500 bears once delisting has occurred. Should the number drop close to or below 500 an effort to re-list the grizzly as threatened will occur. It will be necessary to manage for a population of more than 500 bears to prevent re-listing. The Department’s management will be designed to lower grizzly densities in currently occupied habitat with high levels of human use/bear conflicts, in particular on private lands, but also on some areas of public land outside the primary conservation area (PCA) where human use/bear conflicts are frequent.

Q: How many bears are there right now?

A: Using the best science available today, the point estimate for grizzlies at this time is approximately 680 bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Q: Does the proposal expand the current range of grizzly bears in Wyoming?

A: Yes, but only to some degree south and west of Jackson Hole. The occupancy proposal allows bears to occupy National Forest Service lands in Northwest Wyoming that can biologically support grizzly bears and where human/bear conflicts are expected to be manageable. This area is designated in the proposal as the Grizzly Bear Conservation Area (GBCA). Except for the low number of bears in the north end of the Wind River Mountains and absence of bears south and west of Jackson, the entire area is currently occupied.

Q: How many different areas are there in this draft plan?

A: There are basically three management areas described in the draft plan. The Primary Conservation Area (PCA) will be the "core occupancy area" where decisions will be made in favor of grizzly bears. Management flexibility will increase once delisting occurs. The PCA is composed of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and adjacent wilderness areas. The Secondary Conservation Area (SCA) is composed of all Wilderness and Forest Service lands outside the PCA on the Shoshone National Forest north of Boulder Creek in the Wind River Mountains, and on the Bridger Teton National Forest north of the Snake River Canyon and Hoback River. All non-wilderness lands would be managed for multiple use and bear densities would vary depending on levels of human/bear conflicts. The SCA and PCA collectively are referred to as the Grizzly Bear Conservation Area (GBCA). The area outside the GBCA and within the Grizzly Bear Data Analysis Unit (GBDAU) is composed of National Forest Service lands, Bureau of Land Management Lands, State of Wyoming lands and considerable private land. Grizzly bears may wander into this area but all management decisions will be made in favor of human uses. Dispersal into and occupancy of this area will be discouraged through regulated hunting seasons and agency removal of nuisance bears. However, a grizzly could occupy this area, especially in remote country, if never harvested by a licensed hunter and never causes a problem.

Q. In addition to managing bear distribution and numbers will the Department have an active public outreach and education program to minimize causes of human/bear conflicts, and ultimately removal of bears by agency personnel?

A: Absolutely, the currently approved plan provides specific direction on conflict prevention and education efforts. Grizzly bear management has to be a two pronged approach, one, to educate and provide resources to reduce bear attractants and causes of human/ bear conflicts and two, distribution and density management to reduce the potential for conflicts in areas of heavy human use.

Q: Is the Department going to take comments on the plan?

A: Yes. The Department began taking comments in November and will continue to do so until the end of business on Jan.14, 2005. Comments may be submitted online at http://gf.state.wy.us/wildlife/GBOccupancy/index.asp or by mail to: Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Attn: Grizzly Bear Occupancy, 5400 Bishop Blvd., Cheyenne, WY 82006