Montana won’t recommend Yellowstone grizzly hunting this year

Grizzly bear (copy)

Grizzly bears were protected from hunting for mover 40 years while listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Public Domain/Neal Herbert via NPS

Not this year.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Thursday that it won’t ask the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to approve a hunting season for the recently delisted Yellowstone grizzly bears this year.

The bears were protected from hunting for more than 40 years while they were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Those protections were lifted in 2017, which opened the door for a potential hunting season. 

In a news release, FWP director Martha Williams said the decision is meant to reinforce the state’s commitment to the grizzly bear’s long-term survival.

“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long-term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” Williams said.

FWP will make the recommendation to its governing board at its next meeting Feb. 15.

The announcement comes weeks after Wyoming Game and Fish gained permission from its governing board to draw up grizzly bear hunting regulations, the first time since the 1970s that either state has had the legal authority to do so.

Removing Endangered Species Act protections for the bears gave more management responsibility to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Prior to the delisting, each state had to create a framework for a potential hunting season, which was included in the final conservation strategy.

Part of the strategy is meant to limit the number of bears that are killed by humans. It created a level of “discretionary mortality” based on a population estimate. An agreement lined out before delisting split the allowable bear deaths between the three states.

The official government estimate puts the Yellowstone grizzly population at about 700 bears. Greg Lemon, a spokesman for FWP, said the allowable deaths for the three states was calculated to be 17.

Wyoming gets most of the allowable deaths, with the numbers this year being 10 males and 1 female. Idaho’s allowance is one female. Montana’s allowable mortality is 0.9 females and 5.8 males.

Montana will still retain its portion of allowable deaths, meaning the numbers for the other two states would remain the same whether the state decides to hunt bears or not.

FWP cited the ongoing legal challenge to the delisting as another reason it didn’t want to propose a hunting season.

At least five separate lawsuits over the delisting were filed by environmental groups and Native American tribes. They argue the bears shouldn’t have been removed from the list because the animals still face threats from climate change and shifts in their diets that result in more human-bear conflict.

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FWP, some commissioners at odds over Montana’s extended elk season

[How quickly they forget they have wolves to help regulate elk and deer, as nature intended…]

http://missoulian.com/lifestyles/recreation/fwp-some-commissioners-at-odds-over-montana-s-extended-elk/article_80c3b99f-f452-54a0-9dc3-c4230385eec3.html

  • BRETT FRENCH french@billingsgazette.com
  • Updated 
Elk
Some members of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission are concerned that extended elk hunting seasons are not having the desired effect and are pressuring some elk seven months of the year.

LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

“We think it’s time for cow-only elk hunting in the general season … in districts significantly over objective,” said Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, at the commission’s meeting on Dec. 7.

“I totally agree,” said Dan Vermillion, of Livingston, who is the chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Case in point

Vermillion pointed to Hunting District 580, on the east side of the Crazy Mountains, as an example of why Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks should go to a cow-only elk hunt in specific areas. He said elk populations for the district are 200 percent over objective. The objectives are based on landowner tolerance.

The problem is that public access to hunt elk along the east side of the Crazy Mountains is limited because there’s only one public access to Custer Gallatin National Forest lands in that area. Some of the private land is leased to outfitters for hunts, or outfitted by landowners. Most outfitters are selling bull elk hunts, usually to out-of-state hunters, for about $5,000. There’s less interest in cow elk hunting by outfitted clients.

So going to a cow-only hunt in the area would essentially be a poke in the eye to outfitters, as well as a blow to their bottom line. It would also be a shot across the bow to landowners, demanding that public access to the elk be allowed or there will be consequences.

“At what point are we as a department going to either change the elk objective numbers or get serious about how to bring these numbers into objective?” Vermillion questioned.

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Cow elk
Reducing the number of cow elk in certain hunting districts, often mainly on private land, is the objective of shoulder season hunts.

Gazette Staff

It’s working

John Vore, FWP’s Game Management Bureau chief, said the department has been serious, using the shoulder seasons to reduce elk populations. Now in its second season, shoulder seasons allow elk hunting mostly on private land as early as August and continuing through February in some hunting districts.

Last year, Vore said the 10 hunting districts with shoulder seasons that lasted to Feb. 15 reached 95 to 96 percent of their total harvest objective, a figure that includes the harvest during the general and extended seasons. But hunting districts like 580, along with a few others, halt the season by Jan. 1, essentially cutting the late hunt in half, he said.

“Sixty percent of those hunting districts with long shoulder seasons met those criteria and met 96 percent of the harvest criteria” despite weather that wasn’t always conducive to hunting, Vore said.

“In order to harvest elk, and harvest a lot of elk, you need to have a season that runs later than the general season,” he added.

The suggestion of a cow elk-only season in some hunting districts didn’t sit well with commissioner Richard Stuker, of Chinook. He said bulls can cause a lot of damage, even on property where landowners allow public hunter access. He also said that raising the population objectives for the number of elk allowed in a hunting district isn’t the answer, either.

“Otherwise, in about five to 10 years we’ll be in the same boat” as elk numbers continue to climb, he said.

According to FWP’s mathematical calculations based on 80 percent of elk being counted, elk numbers have climbed from about 163,000 a year ago to an estimated 176,000 across the state, a nearly 8 percent increase. The actual number of counted elk — not every area is counted — last year was about 141,400 elk, up from almost 130,700. The objective the FWP wants to reach is around 92,000 elk, which would be a 47 percent reduction in the current elk population.

Relying on hunters to reduce elk populations isn’t easy. Last season, more than 113,500 elk hunters spent more than 1 million days afield to harvest 24,500 elk. Only about 12 percent of all hunters were successful, though, because some hunters took two elk.

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Elk hunting
Only about 12 percent of Montana elk hunters filled their tags last season.

BRETT FRENCH, Gazette Staff

Legislative stick

Vermillion said the extended elk hunting season isn’t only defined by FWP, hunters and landowners. The Montana Legislature also swings a very large stick, one that is often aimed squarely at Fish, Wildilfe & Parks’ forehead.

“The department — unfairly in my opinion — gets beat up by the Legislature for not reaching those numbers,” Vermillion said.

That was one of the objectives of the shoulder seasons, to give landowners a way to thin elk herds outside of the general season. If landowners do not help out by allowing hunter access, and elk populations don’t decline after three years, then FWP would be able to say they tried but were blocked in their efforts by uncooperative landowners.

No matter the reason, Vermillion said not reaching the objectives means the Legislature will be holding FWP accountable.

Hunter harvest

Last season, hunts in the state’s 43 districts with expanded seasons increased the harvest of cow elk by 33 percent, Vore said.

“So it is a tool that does work,” Vore said. “But of course, it’s not going to work if we don’t use it.”

Commissioner Shane Colton, of Billings, said he thinks the population objectives for elk are set too low in some hunting districts.

“If we were to manage down to those numbers we would be shot in the streets by hunters, outfitters and landowners,” he said.

Colton called the numbers antiquated and said a “lot of subjectivity” went into establishing the figures.

“I’m still stymied by the idea that we’re hunting elk seven months of the year,” he said. “Who would’ve thought that would happen in Montana?”

He also chided FWP for pushing shoulder seasons as the answer, noting that one week an elk may be worth thousands of dollars to an outfitter and the next it’s “treated like a rodent” to be exterminated.

“I really struggle with the idea that this is where we’re at,” he said.

Backing off

Vermillion said he would have pushed FWP for an antlerless-only elk season in HD 580, east of the Crazy Mountains, if it weren’t for the creation of a group attempting to solve the public access issue in the area.

“It probably would have been suicide to do it,” he said, but Vermillion has disagreed with legislators and landowners on the topic before, putting himself in the hot seat when his commission appointment came up for renewal before the 2015 Legislature.

Even with the shoulder season hunts, Vermillion doesn’t see how some of the hunting districts can reach the objectives.

“The department will have to prove to me in August 2018 we should continue” shoulder season hunts, he said. August is when the department will finalize the seasons for 2019, which is also a year that the Legislature meets and will closely follow the third season of the extended elk hunts.

The dilemma

Vore told Vermillion and the other commissioners that FWP wants to use the shoulder seasons to “full effect” next hunting season, expanding the late season hunts out to Feb. 15 in hunting districts like 580.

Martha Williams, who is still in her first year as FWP director, said she has heard a lot of the same complaints as the commissioners, but she wants to learn more from the current course the department is on before recommending any changes.

“It’s not whether we revisit the objectives, but when,” she said. “I am paying attention,” but didn’t think it was prudent to make any changes now.

“We need to do something and figure something out or the Legislature will be telling us what to do,” Stuker said.

“I’m not naïve,” Colton said. “I understand why we have (shoulder seasons).

“But I don’t want the Legislature setting our seasons and quotas,” he added. “My preference would not be to expand (the shoulder seasons) all out to Feb. 15. But if we don’t, then the Legislature will say we were on track and you shot us down. It’s just an unfortunate situation for us to be in because there are other tools and other methods than a seven-month elk season that we now have.”

‘Dead bears don’t learn anything’ — Biologists balk at notion hunting makes bears wary

Grizzly bear

It’s hard for a grizzly bear to learn anything when it’s dead.

That’s the take of two grizzly bear biologists in northwest Montana on the notion that grizzly bears will learn to fear man if the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming allow a limited trophy hunt now that the species’ threatened status in the region around Yellowstone National Park has been revoked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Last week, the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International asked to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to restore protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

In affidavits, several members of the two organizations said allowing a grizzly bear hunt would improve public safety as well as help the region’s economy and allow states to better manage the animals.

Safari Club International Idaho Chapter President Anthony Hafla of Idaho Falls said that hunting grizzly bears would limit the human-bear conflicts that now occur, especially during bow season.

“Grizzlies are smart animals and as soon as they figure out that man is dangerous, they will avoid such conflict,” Hafla said. “The overall outcome for the bears will be positive as fewer bears will be killed out of self-defense or from culling bears that have been involved in altercations with humans.”

Edwin Johnson, a 70-year-old outfitter from Gardiner, said he would welcome the opportunity both to offer guided grizzly bear hunts to his clients as well as hunt one personally.

“To me, this is a public safety issue,” Johnson said. “In 1996 and 2007, clients of mine were mauled by grizzly bears. More bears are becoming more aggressive. They need to be hunted so that they fear the scent of humans, rather than following as they do now.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Libby area grizzly bear management specialist Kim Annis has heard that argument before.

“If the argument is that hunting bears will teach them to be afraid of humans, I don’t understand how that would play out,” Annis said. “Bears are solitary animals. If someone kills one, it’s dead. It would have to stay alive to actually learn something.”

Annis said people have been hunting black bears forever and they still come around people. Alaska has allowed hunting of brown bears — which are called grizzlies in the Lower 48 — and there are still conflicts between bears and humans there.

“I don’t see where there is any evidence that bears learn to fear humans because of hunting,” she said. “If people want to be able to hunt grizzly bears as a trophy, that’s what they should say.”

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes grizzly bear specialist Stacy Courville said he couldn’t say for sure how bears would react to being hunted, but there is one thing he knows for certain.

“Dead bears don’t learn anything,” he said. “Unless there is a bear right there standing next to the one that got shot, I’m not sure how bears would learn anything about being hunted. … Intuitively, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Courville’s experience does tell him that grizzly bears are capable of learning to avoid unpleasant situations.

A cornfield surrounded by an electric fence near St. Ignatius has shown him that numerous times.

“We had bears that were patrolling the outside perimeter almost every night in hopes of finding a way in,” he said. “We had bears inside the fence that couldn’t get out. When they finally did decide to leave and the fence was turned off, they still hesitated before going through it.”

The female bear stuck inside the fence had two cubs with her. As the corn patch was harvested and it grew smaller and smaller, Courville occasionally saw her stand up and look around.

When the three finally decided to make a break for it, Courville happened to be there to watch.

“While mom barreled right through the fence, the two cubs hesitated when they got to the fence,” he said. “She was already across the county road before they even attempted to get through the fence. That was learned behavior.”

Proud Montana hunters show their “trophies” of 2017

 Sent  by a friend there wth these words:

“PROUD” MONTANA HUNTERS SHOW THEIR TROPHIES
….Warning!..graphic pictures of dead animals

I’m at a loss for words here…smiling faces showing off a dead animal?…what is wrong with these people? Were they abused as children..WTF?
This is on the front page of the Missoulian newspaper

 

Hunting season 2017 was a big success for many Montana hunters. Readers submitted their photos of this year’s trophies.

Grizzly roadmap: Studies show grizzlies finding their way around people

http://missoulian.com/news/local/grizzly-roadmap-studies-show-grizzlies-finding-their-way-around-people/article_265135ca-15b5-5e28-bc2a-bde1e15935c4.html#tracking-source=home-top-story-1

Grizzly bear management has evolved from growing populations to moving them around. And a couple of new reports give mixed signals about how the keystone predators travel.

In the United States, evidence has grown that grizzlies have almost bridged the gap between the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem north of Missoula and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem south of Bozeman. But a British Columbia study released this month raises doubts about the condition of its much larger bear population.

Grizzly movement matters because the rare and federally protected animals must avoid inbreeding for their populations to remain healthy.

Critics of taking Greater Yellowstone grizzlies off the endangered species list say that the recovery area lacks connectivity to other bears, and so risks genetic decay.

The U.S. Interior Department proposed turning Greater Yellowstone grizzlies over to state management in July, and is developing rules for similar delisting of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population within a year.

Montana researchers Cecily Costello of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Frank van Manen of the U.S. Geological Survey published a report on possible grizzly pathways out of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the journal Ecosphere. Their work lends hope that the genetically isolated population around Yellowstone National Park may soon get a breeding boost as northern bears shake their family tree.

“There were routes that were not obvious before we started, and a lot more alternatives than we thought initially,” van Manen said.

Some bears leave the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex via the short but precarious path around Helena through the Big Belt Mountains toward Bozeman and relative security north of Yellowstone. Others loop around Butte to approach Yellowstone from the west.

One counter-intuitive result van Manen observed was that the heavily used routes weren’t necessarily the best ones.

“The concentration isn’t because that’s the great habitat,” van Manen said. “It’s because there’s not a lot of great places to go. Those are pinch-points.”

Knowing that allows land managers and bear advocates to do two things. One is to make sure those pinch-points don’t become too hazardous for grizzlies, such as providing wildlife crossings at freeways.

The other is to protect the qualities of the more dispersed routes.

“Those (dispersed routes) have really good, secure habitat like the Beaverhead and Bitterroot mountains that are already well-protected with little human influence,” van Manen said. “That might make those routes more effective in the long run. We shouldn’t just focus on the ones with highest concentration.”

At least 21 grizzly bears have been tracked moving between the two recovery areas. Almost all have been males. Female bears are much less likely to cross highways or human settlements, the authors noted.

“Our analyses placed much greater emphasis on potential paths following the Rattlesnake, Garnet, John Long, Flint Creek, Anaconda, Pioneer and Highland Mountains,” the authors wrote. “The Tobacco Root Mountains may be a particularly pivotal stepping stone, as many different paths converged on this mountain range.”

***

Three smaller recovery areas in the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and North Cascades mountains of Montana, Idaho and Washington also depend on the movement of grizzly bears. Pathways there cross the international border between the United States and Canada, where British Columbia has a much larger grizzly population.

Last week British Columbia Auditor General Carol Bellringer warned that supply of grizzlies may be at risk as well.

The southeast corner of the province bordering Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park holds B.C.’s greatest concentration of grizzlies. That zone is also the only portion of the B.C.-U.S. border open to grizzly hunting. But three of the four zones just to the west, bordering the small Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and North Cascade U.S. recovery zones, were considered threatened populations by the Canadians.

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British Columbia grizzly bear population units
British Columbia Auditor General

British Columbia has slightly more than twice Montana’s area and more than four times its population, although about 2.6 million of the province’s 4.6 million people live in the greater Vancouver area north of Seattle.

It also has more than 10 times the grizzly bears: an estimated 15,000 compared to the 1,500 to 1,800 estimated in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Idaho and Wyoming. Alberta had about 580 grizzlies, including about 140 in the region between Waterton Lakes National Park and Banff.

Grizzlies can be hunted in British Columbia, but Bellringer said that was less a threat to their management than loss of habitat.

“The expansion of development in oil and gas, forestry and human settlement makes it more difficult for grizzly bears to mate, and results in food source loss, as well as more human-bear conflict,” Bellringer wrote. “An increase in resource roads — 600,000 kilometers (100,000 miles) existing and more added every year — also leads to more human-bear conflict, and ultimately, grizzly bear deaths.”

British Columbia charges residents $80 for a license to hunt during its grizzly season, while nonresidents pay $1,030. Grizzly hunting brings about $6 million to $7.6 million to the provincial economy. Commercial bear viewing in just one part of the province, the Great Bear Rainforest, was worth $15 million in 2012, according to the auditor’s report.

While sales of resident hunting licenses have stayed steady at around 300 a year, nonresident sales have spiked. They grew from about 800 in 2000 to 1,700 in 2016. The audit did not separate Canadian and foreign purchases in the nonresident category.

The possibility of U.S. states offering grizzly hunting seasons has been a major controversy in the delisting debate. But van Manen noted that the Canadians were borrowing many of the same steps Americans have used in the Endangered Species Act recovery process to maintain their bear populations.

“We’ve certainly been fortunate we have a strong piece of legislation like the ESA,” van Manen said. “Roads are key. Keeping road density below certain thresholds is key to effective grizzly bear conservation.

“In the Yellowstone, that’s accomplished by setting standards for secure habitat that are at the same levels as 1998 or below. The same thing is happening with the NCDE (Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem) conservation strategy. That guarantees that in the core of the ecosystem, the road densities and motorized access will really not change.”

70-year-old wanted to ‘wear a coonskin cap, hunt bears, be a real woodsman’ — so he did

Biggest muley
Bill Butler shot this mule deer northwest of Hermosillo, Mexico, about 750 miles south of his Wyoming home. The buck’s antlers measured 36 inches wide and had a gross score of more than 195. He collected the trophy animal just days shy of his 70th birthday.

Courtesy photo

Five days short of his 70th birthday last year, Bill Butler shot the biggest mule deer of his long hunting life.

That’s saying something for a guy who literally wrote the book on “The Versatile Trophy Hunter.”

“I’m getting old, but I’m still poking around,” he said.

His love for hunting started when he was just a boy. That was when he developed an “intense instinct and desire.”

“I’ve slacked off a bit as I’ve gotten older, but I still like to get a good animal,” he said.

As if to prove the fact, on Sept. 5 he shot the largest bull elk of his life, which green scored 352 gross and had a 54-inch main beam. He shot the 8×6 elk from a ground blind at 325 yards. He would have preferred to stalk the bull, but with so many other elk in the area, he had little choice.

Montana boy

Bill grew up in Silesia, Montana, hunting with his father, Jim Butler, as soon as he passed Hunter Education at age 12. A photo in his book shows him looking a little unhappy at that age. His father balances a rifle and his right foot on the bumper of a car while draping an arm around his son. An antelope’s leg can be seen sticking out of the trunk. Bill wears a Davy Crockett shirt in the photo, a figure idolized by the youngster in 1958.

“I wanted to wear a coonskin cap, hunt bears, be a real woodsman, and wander throughout the wilderness when I grew up,” Bill wrote in the photo caption.

And he did.

“Growing up through high school, my brothers and I hunted as intensely as young wolves, taking many deer and antelope,” Bill wrote. “Soon we were shooting the legal limit of two deer each. We had more than enough meat to eat at home and supplied several neighbors, also.”

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Bill's big whitetail
While hunting in Saskatchewan, Butler found this big whitetail on Dec. 1, 2016. The buck gross scored 169.

Courtesy photo

Outfitting

After high school Bill started guiding hunters, including difficult backpacking trips for bighorn sheep in remote and lofty portions of the Beartooth Mountains. Just hiking to the locations would be a 15- to 20-mile trip, he said. The outings paid off in five bighorn sheep for him, in addition to those he guided clients to.

“I carried 120 pounds for two days one time when I guided for a hunter,” Bill said, packing out their camping gear and the hunter’s sheep. “Now I don’t have any cartilage between my discs in my lower back.”

After 20 years of guiding in Montana, he hung up his license in 1986. He was 40 years old, had a pickup he still owed $6,000 on and no money in the bank. Yet he quickly transitioned to a new adventure, marrying Diana Wolff. Together they bought 86 acres in Wyoming and opened a guest ranch and started raising bucking bulls for the rodeo circuit.

Diana, 12 years his junior, said it’s a family joke that a month after getting married Bill took off on his honeymoon — without her — to hunt in Alaska for four weeks.

“Hunting is in Bill’s blood,” she said. “I knew who he was when I married him.”

Instead of children, they’ve raised a lot of livestock and dogs. That’s now dwindled down to three horses, three longhorn steers and six dogs.

Hard knocks

Bill even rode bulls for a while, but over a lifetime of active living, the injuries have added up. He’s torn the meniscus in both knees, has a 4-inch titanium rod and shoulder ball because he had dislocated it so much. He still carries around part of a .22 bullet in his shin after he dropped his Ruger Bearcat pistol which discharged and shot him. Then in 2013 he suffered a massive stroke.

“I was given the ‘wonder drug’ tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) which saved my life and left me with no ill effects of a stroke,” he wrote in a text.

But Diana said the doctor warned her before prescribing the medicine that there was also a chance Bill could bleed to death when given the drug. Although he was paralyzed on his left side and couldn’t talk in a way that Diana and the doctor could understand him, he agreed to risk trying the drug.

“That’s no life, not for a guy like Bill,” Diana said of the possibility that he might be permanently paralyzed. “Afterward, he got to thinking about it and said it was like riding a bucking bull. You nod your head and you might die before the ride is over.”

While being treated for the stroke, his doctor told him there was evidence of a previous stroke and that he “could die any day of another one.”

“I would say he’s more reflective on his life now,” Diana said. “He’s probably paying a little bit more attention to the things he wants to do.”

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Biggest elk
Butler had been scouting elk prior to the season but this big bull showed up much later. The bull is the largest Butler has ever shot.

Courtesy photo

Back in the saddle

Such a blunt confrontation with his mortality prompted Bill to lose weight, take dietary supplements and begin a daily regimen of walking.

“I’ve been walking all my life,” he said. And he competed in track when in high school.

It was Bill’s youthful brush with track that prompted him to enter the Big Sky State Games. In the last four years he’s won 29 medals, five gold medals in 2017 and in July set the pole vault record for his 70 to 74 age class — 4-feet-9 inches.

Bill and Diana both took instruction from Cody high school track coach Scott Shaffer in June to get tuned up for this year’s event. The pole vaulters were the oldest he’d ever taught, yet they easily mixed with their teenage counterparts.

“When I first found out about it I was kind of expecting a little wiry guy,” Shaffer said. “But then I saw him and thought, ‘Oh my god, I hope it’s not him cause he’s a huge dude!’”

Bill is 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 241 pounds.

New goals

Just like his verve for hunting, Bill took to pole vaulting with the same determination.

“I’m fairly competitive too,” Diana said. “If Bill wants to do something, he does it to the Nth degree.”

“He wanted to do 50 jumps, I wanted him to do five,” Shaffer said. “He wanted to come back the next day, I wanted him to wait a week.”

But waiting or taking things easy just isn’t in Bill’s DNA, whether he’s raising bulls or hunting, everything is full tilt and all in.

“He’s not one of those guys sitting on the couch getting old and watching TV,” Shaffer said. “He’s going toe to toe with Father Time every day.”

Diana agreed. Even though she was hesitant about letting Bill drive 750 miles to Mexico for last year’s mule deer hunt, and also to drive north about the same distance to hunt whitetails, she said it wouldn’t have been fair to ask him not to go.

“I was very worried, but I don’t want him sitting here in the rocking chair and dying,” she said. “I know he’d be a lot happier dying out in nature.”

Bill doesn’t envision himself kicking the bucket anytime soon. Instead, he’s set his eyes on the prize of setting records in the Big Sky State Games track and field events when he’s 90.

“The more intense you hunt the better you do,” Bill said. “It’s the same with anything.”

Court Helps Cabinet Yaak Grizzlies, Again: Time for Fish and Wildlife Service to Do Better

https://www.grizzlytimes.org/single-post/2017/08/29/Court-Helps-Cabinet-Yaak-Grizzlies-Again-Time-for-Fish-and-Wildlife-Service-to-Do-Better

August 29, 2017

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Louisa Willcox

Grizzlies in the remote Cabinet Yaak ecosystem in northwest Montana are literally on death’s doorstep, numbering less than 50 grizzlies – less than half of the FWS’ absurdly small recovery goal of 100 bears.  Making matters worse, since this population was listed as threatened in 1975 (along with other grizzlies in the lower-48 states), grizzlies have been functionally split between the northern Yaak region and the southern Cabinet Mountains; there has been no movement of grizzly bears between these isolated segments for many years. The reason? Excessive killing, particularly poaching, and the press of human activity.

The listed status of the population matters. If Cabinet Yaak grizzlies are given the more stringent “endangered” protections, the FWS will have to designate critical habitat for them. One major reason that the population is doing so poorly is habitat degradation. Excessive road networks on the Kootenai Forest, built to cut down the huge trees in this lush landscape, allow easy entry for poachers, who constitute the leading cause of death in this population. By contrast, poaching is not nearly as severe a problem in the two wilderness-based strongholds for grizzlies around Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), centered on Glacier Park.

 Christiansen’s Ruling: The Context

In 2014, FWS had downgraded the Cabinet Yaak population from a “warranted, but precluded” endangered status, meaning that the population deserved greater protections, but that FWS could not deal with the problem due to other priorities that it deemed more important. These greater protections had been granted by a judge in 1993 as a result of litigation by conservationists.

To justify its defiance of the judge’s earlier ruling, the FWS relied on a 2010 determination that it used to dodge listing the polar bear as endangered, despite the fact that global warming has been ferociously melting sea ice needed by polar bears to hunt seals. In this case a judge allowed the FWS to interpret “in danger of extinction” as meaning “on the brink of extinction,” with the proviso that this interpretation applied only to the special circumstances of polar bears.

Meanwhile, between 1993 and 2014 threats to Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies from roadbuilding, human settlement, and poaching mounted. The situation is so dire for these bears that the FWS regularly augments the population by bringing in grizzlies from the NCDE population. More on this later.

Nevertheless, the FWS wanted to downgrade the population’s status so that it would not have to make hard decisions that would challenge powerful status quo interests in the logging and mining industries. At the same time, the agency greenlighted a Forest Service plan that instituted weaker standards for managing roads in the Cabinet-Yaak compared to  those applied to grizzly habitat in Greater Yellowstone and the NCDE, both of which support 10-15 times more grizzlies. Stringent management of roads in these better-protected ecosystems is seen as key to the progress made toward population recovery.

Christensen determined that the FWS’ downgrading of protections for the Cabinet-Yaak’s grizzlies was “arbitrary and capricious.” He said: “There is no evidence… to suggest that the agency found that the change in policy was permissible under the Endangered Species Act, believed that the new policy was better than the agencies’ prior interpretations, or otherwise provided a good reason for the change.” (link)

Michael Garrity, Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, which brought the case to court, wryly observed that, instead of redoubling efforts to protect and restore habitat and reduce mortalities, the FWS has spent the better part of the last two decades dragging its feet.

Second Positive Court Ruling for Cabinet Yaak Grizzlies in a Year

Judge Christiansen’s ruling is the second in a year in aid of the Cabinet-Yaak’s beleaguered grizzlies. In May, 2016, Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch rocked the grizzly bear world by sentencing a man to six months in federal prison for poaching a threatened grizzly bear in the Cabinet Yaak ecosystem (link).

Although the additional fine of $5,000 was stiff but not unusual for violations of the ESA, jail time is unheard of as a penalty for any imperiled species, let alone grizzly bears. There has never been a louder message to would-be poachers that federal officials are taking their duty to protect endangered species seriously.

The facts of this case showed that the killing was not in self-defense, but rather as a malicious lark. Shaloko Katzer of Mead, Washington followed a grizzly, then shot and killed it in the Yaak Falls campground in July, 2015.

Judge Lynch was unusually clear about his intentions when he addressed Katzer during sentencing, saying: “You went out of your way to kill this bear. But the most important thing is this is going to stop. And, unfortunately, you may be the first example, but the unnecessary killing of these threatened species is going to stop. And you, sentencing you to this is necessary to deter all those individuals who might undertake or engage in the same conduct of I guess what they might consider a sport.” (link)

Lynch and Christensen are not the only judges to have ruled in favor of grizzly bears. In fact, during the last 25 years, Courts have determined on at least 20 occasions that more needs to be done to advance recovery of threatened grizzly bears, which for the last 50 years have remained at a mere 2-3% of their former numbers.

Yet, so often, the FWS would rather do nothing and lose again in court than work to get recovery right, especially in the case of Cabinet Yaak grizzlies. The agency seems to care more about minimizing political risks to its funding and prerogatives, which admittedly are considerable, rather than fulfilling its public trust responsibilities by aggressively recovering a charismatic endangered species for the benefit of all Americans.

And, time may not be on the side of the few surviving bears in the Cabinet Yaak.

Time is Running Out for Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk Grizzlies

For decades, the FWS’ top priority has been stripping Yellowstone’s grizzlies of their endangered species protections, which happened for the second time in June of this year. Removing protections for grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem is the agency’s next goal; a delisting proposal is expected for the NCDE in 2018.

The FWS’ focus on eviscerating protections for these larger populations has come at the additional expense of grizzlies that are on the ropes — not only in the Cabinet Yaak, but its neighbor to the west in Idaho, the Selkirks.  The Selkirks, a similarly small ecosystem that also straddles the Canadian border, and supports perhaps 50 animals on the US side.

Given the small size of these populations, the slide to extinction could be relatively quick, as these bears are not far from zero now. Grizzlies have extremely low reproduction rates, which makes recovery much more difficult. There are only a handful of reproductive females in each ecosystem, and the loss of even one of these females could be devastating.

It is impossible to overstate the level of threat facing Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies.  Sadly, there is no designated Wilderness in the Yaak area, and, the Cabinet Mountains are long and skinny, giving people easy access to even the farthest reaches of these scant wildlands. Only a small portion of the Selkirks is protected Wilderness.

There is no portion of either ecosystem protected by a National Park, which is why you may have never heard of them. That matters, because in Yellowstone, Glacier and, seasonally, Grand Teton Parks, grizzly bears are protected from people with guns. This alone has made a huge difference to recovering grizzly bears.

Both the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems are hammered by logging roads.  The Canada side of the ecosystem is pretty beat up too – making bears more or less isolated from larger populations on all sides.

Adding insult to injury, two hard rock mines are poised to hemi-sect the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. If the Rock Creek Mine is built on the west side of the Cabinets and the Montanore mine on the east, the ability of grizzly bear to travel from the north to the southern third of the bear’s range would be seriously compromised. Even the FWS has admitted that these mines, if built at the same time (which is now proposed), would be the last nails in the coffin for this population. So far, litigation brought by conservation groups (does this sound like a theme?) has forestalled these mines.

As I mentioned earlier, prospects even under the current conditions are so bleak that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has resorted to dumping grizzly bears from the healthier Glacier population into the Cabinet-Yaak to prevent the population from winking out. Still, out of 17 grizzly bears that have been relocated during the last 15 years, only three have been known to contribute genes to the population.

All is not lost, however, for the habitat, with its Pacific maritime influence, is incredibly productive, with berries that Yellowstone grizzly bears could only dream of.  There is hope, if the thugs stop killing bears, as the ESA requires, and if enough habitat is protected.

Uplisting the Cabinet Yaak and Selkirk populations to endangered status and designating critical habitat for these bears could prompt needed restoration and make habitat more secure for grizzlies.  Stiffer penalties and more aggressive prosecution of poaching cases could also reduce malicious killing. Better coexistence practice could reduce conflicts. Proven methods include running electric fence around beehives and chicken coops, and installing bear resistant garbage bins around home sites.

Not doing stupid, harmful stuff would also help enormously.

Now for the Dumbest Idea Ever: New, High-Use Hiking Trail Through the Heart of the Yaak

Just as you think things cannot get worse for Cabinet Yaak grizzlies, the Forest Service has proposed a new high use hiking trail through the heart of the wildest part of the Yaak. The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail would run 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park to Port Townsend, Washington, tying into the popular Pacific Crest Trail.

As many as 4,000 hikers are expected to blast through the bear-iest habitat in the Yaak – many undoubtedly oblivious to bears as they listen to tunes on headsets, as is the custom on the Pacific Crest Trail. The likelihood of negative consequences is high as hikers displace bears and increase the chance of conflicts with bears.

Local conservationists, including the prolific writer Rick Bass, have suggested an alternative route that avoids this refugium, a measure also supported by preeminent grizzly bear scientist Chuck Jonkel, who passed away last year (link). But, a crazy rider to a 2009 spending bill sponsored by Norm Dix, former Congressman from Washington, authorized the trail.

While the Forest Service can still say “no” to the current route, the agency is reluctant to change course. Meanwhile a trail advocacy group, Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA), has been bullying the government to push the process through. “The trail is coming whether you like it or not,” said Jeff Kish of PTNA to Jessie Grossman of the local conservation group Yaak Valley Forest Council in a recent conversation.

Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies need more, not less habitat. This issue is a no brainer: the Forest Service and FWS should simply re-route the trail so as to minimize impacts on grizzlies. But, then, both agencies love to say “yes” to every development proposal that crosses their desk.

It is true, too, that avoiding stupid stuff like the Yaak trail won’t achieve recovery, which entails doubling the size of the population. For that, we need a bigger picture approach.

Yellowstone and Cabinet Yaak, Selkirks Grizzly Bears Need Each Other

We tend to talk about the Greater Yellowstone, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirks and Glacier, as if they are separate grizzly bear planets. They aren’t. They simply represent bears in the last bits of land where grizzly bears survived when the FWS got around to listing them in 1975. These ecosystems represented the small remnants of what had been one more or less contiguous grizzly bear population that stretched from the Great Plains to the Pacific coast and south to Mexico.

Despite all the work since 1975 to recover grizzlies, they still constitute only 3% of their former numbers. While scientists say that continued isolation is a serious problem for all these populations, FWS still treats them as separate postage stamps.

Geneticists tell us that Yellowstone bears will be forever at risk genetically if they stay isolated in their current ecological island. Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk grizzly bears cannot stay isolated either if their future is to be ensured. All must be connected to each other and to larger populations in Canada. The government knows this, but it is too darn difficult to talk about such a big vision in such a mean-spirited, anti-science, political climate.

Many experts say that for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears to connect with bears elsewhere, the best route is through the Selway Bitterroot ecosystem north through, yes you guessed it, the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.  This means that grizzly bears must be recovered in Idaho’s vast Selway Bitterroot ecosystem, which scientists say could support 600 or so grizzlies.

But the lynchpin for recovery is the largest grizzly bear population, centered on Glacier Park, with perhaps 900 or so bears.  Although only four grizzly bears are known to have moved on their own from this ecosystem to the Cabinet-Yaak and stay there, more could do so in the future if habitat is protected and bears are not killed. Grizzlies are also moving south towards Yellowstone, and into the north end of the Selway Bitterroot recovery area. Meanwhile, they are moving east, recolonizing prairie habitat.

Grizzly bears are showing the way to recovery with their paws. From Yellowstone, bears are moving further west along the Centennial Range towards the Selway Bitteroot. Individuals have moved south from the Cabinets as well. Grizzlies, probably from the NCDE, have shown up this summer in the Big Belt Mountains, about 100 miles north of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They are connecting on their own, if we don’t kill them.

Instead of treating the five remaining grizzly bear populations as isolated islands, the FWS should look at opportunities to achieve durable recovery through expanding secure habitat by restoration and improved co-existence practices. The 1992 recovery plan, which ignored the pressing issue of climate change and gave short shrift to connectivity, is in sore need of revision. This is the place to reimagine recovery and the possibilities of creating a large contiguous population of grizzlies in our northern Rockies.

Instead of dragging their feet until they are sued again and spanked by judges, the FWS and Forest Service should show a little courage and exercise leadership – for the bears and all the rest of us.

Please do what you can to help Cabinet Yaak grizzlies: tell the Forest Service to re-route the Pacific Northwest Trail to avoid the heart of the Yaak. Send an email to mtmcgrath@fs.fed.us, and send a copy to info@yaakvalley.org. The Yaak Valley Forest Council (www.yaakvalley.org) is leading the fight against this idiotic trail. You can help stop the disastrous Rock Creek mine by supporting Rock Creek Alliance (www.rockcreekalliance.org). And the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (www.allianceforthewildrockies.org)  brought the latest uplisting case — stay tuned for more chapters on this drama.

Please Sign on for 24 hour Mandated Trap Checks!

Will you please add your name to a letter, that our friend, Zack Strong, of NRDC, so diligently compiled, insisting Montana implement a 24 hour mandated trap check time period?

Montanans, in particular, are asked to sign as FWP continually emphasizes out of state comments as if Montanans don’t care!

Simply reply to this alert and provide:

  • your name
  • your town and state

Also requested, but not required:

  • your occupation, especially if in wildlife, animal, or science related professions

We will then see that you are included on the letter to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks before the deadline for the 2017 Trapping Proposals

Please reply before July 13!

Feel free to pass this on so others can sign on, too! A very big thank you, to Zack, for his dedication and persistence!

Everyone, PLEASE don’t forget to submit your comment on ALL the Montana 2017 trapping proposals before the July 16 5pm mst deadline.

GRIZZLY BEARS INCH CLOSER TO GREAT FALLS, MONTANA

On June 1, a pair of young grizzlies turned up at the mouth of Box Elder Creek, where it enters the south side of the Missouri River. That’s 12 miles northeast of Great Falls—and roughly where Pvt. Hugh McNeal, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, ran into a grizzly bear in July 1806, when the expedition passed through the area on its homeward journey.

Grizzlies getting closer to old Great Falls stomping grounds


CLOSE Grizzly bears are inching closer to Great Falls, Montana’s third largest city, where two centuries ago they…www.greatfallstribune.com

It’s just the natural expansion of a healthy, growing grizzly bear population that’s putting them in closer proximity to people, FWP’s [Mike] Madel said.

“I think these bears are searching for areas to develop new home ranges,” he said.

Historically, grizzly bears occupied grasslands like Great Falls all the way to the Mississippi River but they’ve been gone for more than 100 years.

In recent years, grizzly bears have been traveling river corridors like the Sun, Marias, Dearborn and Teton rivers east of the Rocky Mountain Front to the high plains.

The expansion onto the plains has come as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population of grizzly bears of northwestern and northcentral Montana continues to recover.

The population, currently listed as threatened, is more than 1,000 bears and growing at about 2 percent a year.

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Grizzly killing near Missoula

A black-bear hunter reportedly killed a large grizzly bear in the hills 5 miles northeast of Missoula on May 16, but federal wildlife officials have released few details about the incident.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with its partners at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, is actively investigating the self-reported killing of a grizzly bear by a black bear hunter in the Johnson Creek drainage near Bonner,” FWS spokesman Ryan Moehring wrote in a press release on Tuesday.

“This is an active, ongoing investigation and the Service will share more information with the public when the circumstances of the case permit.”

 That wasn’t much comfort to Andy Lennox, who lives at the base of Johnson Creek and heard about the incident second-hand.

“That’s right behind my house,” said Lennox, who’s lived along the Blackfoot River a mile north of Bonner for 30 years. “And this spring bear hunt is crazy anyway. Lots of hunters can’t tell difference between bears. This could be female with cubs, in which case they just killed two, three or four bears. This was almost two weeks ago, and the Fish and Wildlife Service never came by to let me know what’s going on. It’s like it’s some kind of big secret. That’s weird as hell.”

“Grizzly bears are a listed species (protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act), so there’s no surprise there’s federal involvement in a grizzly shooting,” Moehring said. “Whenever there’s been an incident like this, the Fish and Wildlife Service has an active role to play.”

Montana’s spring black-bear hunting season started on April 15 and closes in the Missoula area on June 15. Hunters must pass a test certifying they can tell the difference between black and grizzly bears in order to purchase a hunting license.

About 1,000 grizzly bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem that extends from the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula to the northern border of Glacier National Park. While wildlife researchers have occasionally tracked grizzlies traveling around the fringe of the Missoula Valley, the big bears have rarely been sighted south of the Mission Mountains or Bob Marshall wilderness areas.