Wyoming's grizzly MOA steps toward delisting

SUBLETTE COUNTY – With the new high of 1,069 bears estimated for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s “endangered” grizzlies, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission took a step Nov. 30 toward the goal of delisting the long-recovered population.

After Gov. Mark Gordon’s recent notice of intent to petition U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the GYE grizzlies in the three-state demographic monitoring area, the next step needed was the commission’s approval of the amended Tri-State Memorandum of Agreement including the new population and specific commitments.

The Tri-State MOA among Wyoming, Montana and Idaho for the GYE’s DMA was first signed in 2016. The updated MOA’s approval by the commission in a Nov. 30 teleconference is the first step to address a federal court’s concerns about delisting the grizzly bears.

Wildlife Division chief Rick King led the teleconference with Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik and the full commission with employees and media listening in.

The commission heard and approved the updated MOA, with “an explicit commitment” to “translocate grizzly bears between the GYE and other grizzly bear populations when necessary for genetic fitness of a distinct grizzly bear population occurring within the three states,” subject to federal, state and tribal laws.

The Tri-State MOA awaits approval from Idaho Fish and Game and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ commissioners.

All three states’ wildlife agencies manage their GYE grizzlies under FWS recovery criteria, although that population goal was reached years ago, King added Tuesday.

“Since the late 1990s,” clarified large carnivore supervisor Dan Thompson said.

Thompson previously explained that the new count of 1,069 bears did not point to a rapid growth burst since 2019 but to more relevant and realistic methodology.

That big number was confirmed by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team for its annual review of the GYE’s population. Its report, “A Reassessment of Chao2 Estimates for Population Monitoring of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team,” was posted April 6.

Previous methodology predicted an average 932 bears in the 19,279-square-mile DMA from 2002 through 2019, with a possible low of 831 and high of 1,033.

FWS’ recovery criteria are at least 500 bears, breeding females in 16 of 18 bear management units and managed mortality rates. The states agree to manage for about 932 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s demographic monitoring area “to provide an additional level of protection.”

They also committed to “ensure annual total mortality limits are not exceeded within the DMA for independent males, independent females and dependent young.”

“With this year's estimate above 1,033 … the subsequent mortality limits are 10 percent for independent females (2-plus years of age), 22 percent for independent males (2-plus years of age) and 10 percent for dependent young,” Thompson explained in an email.

A 2020 court order blocked delisting sought in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016-2017 final rule; the three states focused to meet challenges to boost genetic diversity by relocating grizzlies and to “recalibrate GYE population metrics and mortality limits,” according to the just-approved Tri-State MOA.

Of 1,069 grizzlies in the GYE’s tri-state demographic monitoring area this year, Wyoming’s 58-percent share of the DMA could pencil out to 620 grizzlies.

Using the same ratio, Montana’s 34-percent share could be 363.4 and Idaho’s 8 percent or 85.5.