BOZEMAN — While Idaho and Wyoming pursue plans to allow grizzly bear hunting outside Yellowstone National Park, Montana wildlife officials say they don’t regret deciding against holding a hunt this year.
This past week, Idaho opened public comment on a proposal for a hunt of one male grizzly. Wyoming has released a proposal to sell 24 grizzly tags.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department officials decided against proposing a hunt in February.
“We made the decisions we feel are best for our state,” agency spokesman Greg Lemon said. “Wyoming and Idaho and their departments have done the same.”
Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said Friday that the park didn’t have any concerns about the proposed hunts.
Frank van Manen, the leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, said kill limits enshrined in the management guidelines should ensure any impact to the population will likely be “pretty minor.”
But critics are worried that the proposed hunts threaten the newly delisted grizzly population, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported . They are especially concerned about Wyoming’s plan, which includes allowing hunters to take two female bears.
Bonnie Rice, of the Sierra Club, said in a statement this week that Wyoming’s proposal is “extreme and irresponsible” and that killing females could have an impact on reproductive rates.
Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, a delisting supporter, said Wyoming’s proposal is a bit much.
“I think it’s a very aggressive hunt for the first year,” Gevock said. “The species just came off the endangered species list.”
Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for Wyoming Game and Fish, said the proposal meets all the required thresholds and was created with public feedback, and that the state believes it’s biologically sound.
“I would disagree that this is overly aggressive,” Nesvik said. “When you consider the total number of bears in the ecosystem, this is a very low number.”
Government scientists estimate that there are more than 700 grizzlies in the Yellowstone area. The federal government lifted Endangered Species Act protections from the bears in August 2017, ceding management responsibility to the three states and opening the door for the first grizzly hunts in decades.
Several environmental groups and Native Americans have sued in federal court to restore federal protections for the bears.
The three states have an agreement that lines out how many bears could be taken by hunters each year in areas outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, where bear hunting will not be allowed.
Dan Vermillion, the chairman of Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, said the risk of killing a female bear was something Montana wrestled with when considering a hunting season.
“It’s really hard to guarantee that somebody’s not going to shoot the wrong bear,” Vermillion said.