Cabinet-Yaak Grizzlies on Road to Recovery

We feel that substantial progress has been made in enhancing conditions for grizzly bears

By Tony Berget, Gregory Larson and Mark Peck

Recently, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) issued a press release stating it is considering filing suit because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had decided not to list the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear as endangered. While it is entitled to its opinion and can do as it pleases, the population numbers it used to support its case were incorrect. It is vital to base decisions about the management of this population on credible data. That is why a large coalition of environmental groups, timber and mining companies, and county, state, tribal and federal agencies raised $1.7 million to support the Cabinet-Yaak DNA study headed by the non-partisan U.S. Geological Survey. We note that the Alliance for the Wild Rockies was not a contributor to this effort.

Because statistical estimates of grizzly bear population size are often misinterpreted and were used incorrectly in the AWR press release, in the following we provide a summary of the results of the study prepared by USGS scientist Kate Kendall, the project’s principal investigator:

“The 2012 DNS-based study of grizzly bear abundance in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem (CYE) detected 42 different individuals and used mark-recapture methods to estimate the number of bears not sampled. Total estimated average population size (the average number of bears present at any one time) was 44.2 with a 95% confidence interval of 42 – 65. This means that the real population size is most likely to be 44 bears. The confidence interval indicates that there is a 95% chance that the true estimate falls between 42 and 65 bears. Because 42 different individuals were verified during sampling, we know the population cannot be lower than 42. Calculation of average population size adjusts total population estimates downward in proportion to the amount of time part-time bears are present on the study area. The study also estimated the size of the super population, the number of full- and part-time residents in the CYE, at 48.0 bears with a 95% CI of 44 – 62. The preceding estimates were made using traditional mark-recapture models. Estimates made using spatially explicit capture-recapture models (a method developed more recently) are 43 bears present on average at any one time and 50 full- and part-time bears present.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife monitoring program has found that grizzly bear population trends in the CYE has improved in recent years and is no longer declining. USFWS researcher Wayne Kasworm reported to our commission that in 2014 he personally documented a female grizzly with three cubs and another female with two cubs. Two additional females were released into the CYE this year from another population. With a 95% probability that the true population trajectory, and no known mortalities in 2014, we feel that substantial progress has been made in enhancing conditions for grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem under the protections offered by Threatened designation and that the population is on the road to recovery.

Tony Berget, Gregory Larson and Mark Peck are Lincoln County commissioners.

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