Wyoming Grizzly Still on Track For Delisting

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At the Oct. 10-11 meeting of Greater Yellowstone Area grizzly bear managers in Jackson, the message was loud and clear about the future of the threatened species.

"The delisting process is still on track," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Chris Servheen at the semi-annual meeting of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Subcommittee.

Chuck Schwartz, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, also presented at the meeting. "The number of sightings of females with cubs increased from 31 in 2005 to 47 in 2006," Schwartz said. "These sightings normally vary from year to year so the increase in 2006 doesn't mean a huge increase in the numbers of bears in one year."

He adds that because looking at only a single year's data can be misleading, the recovery plan uses running averages to paint a better picture the grizzly bears' status.

"Over the last six years, we have averaged 43 unduplicated females accompanied by 84 cubs for an average litter size of 1.94 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem," Schwartz said. "These are all indicators that the bear numbers have remained stable or slightly increased."

He said a major underpinning of both the recovery plan to bring back the grizzlies and the Conservation Strategy to manage the bears once they are delisted is that biologists will use the best possible science to study and manage the bears. In the case of tracking females with cubs, Schwartz also explained how a new statistical tool called the "Chao2" estimator will be employed to give a more accurate estimate of the Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population.

Another significant factor in the recovery of the bear revolves around human caused mortality. Schwartz reported that, as of the meeting, only nine known grizzly bear mortalities had been recorded for 2006. Of those, one was of natural causes and eight were human related. Six of the human-caused mortalities were within the recovery zone and the 10-mile perimeter around it. One of these bears was a management removal and the others were either motor vehicles accidents, mistaken hunting identity and causes still under investigation.

Schwartz also covered information regarding the various important food sources for the grizzly bears within the Yellowstone Ecosystem, such as whitebark pine nuts, Yellowstone cutthroat, army cutworm moths and winter-killed big game. While food sources like ungulate carcasses were at their highest recorded levels in six years, some other foods such as the whitebark pine nuts were being reduced by native mountain pine beetles attacking the trees. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team is concerned about the decline and is studying the situation in cooperation with the National Park Service and other federal agencies.

In summing up the recovery efforts to date, Servheen noted the last remaining hurdle to overcome is related to public trust of the agencies that will be responsible for managing the grizzly bear once it is delisted. "Many people just do not trust that the agencies will do what they have agreed to do once the bear is delisted," he said. "Our job is to assure the public and to build public trust in the agencies after the grizzly is delisted. All the state and federal agencies involved are committed to fully implement the management, monitoring and science necessary to maintain a recovered grizzly population."

For more information about grizzly bear recovery and view other related links, visit the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Web site at: www.fs.fed.us/r1/wildlife/igbc.