Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Dec. 16 approved an updated “Memorandum of Agreement” between Idaho, Wyoming and Montana regarding state grizzly bear management commitments in support of delisting the bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wyoming and Montana’s commission have also approved the MOA.
The MOA defines the process by which the three states will “coordinate the management and allocation of discretionary mortality of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to ensure the long-term genetic health, viability, and sustainability of the GYE grizzly bear population.”
The MOA updates a similar 2016 agreement by adding language to protect genetic diversity within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by moving at least two grizzly bears from outside the GYE into the GYE by 2025, unless migration from outside the ecosystem is detected in the interim.
Genetic monitoring of the Greater Yellowstone’s population will continue, and genetic diversity and effective population size will be reassessed at least every 14 years, which is one grizzly generation. If migration is not detected, the states will continue to move additional bears into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The MOA also sets different management strategies for limiting mortality based on ranges of population estimates above a minimum of 831 bears in identified suitable habitat within ecosystem. The agreement includes a sliding scale of allowed discretionary mortality, such as hunting, management actions, etc., with greater allowances when the population in suitable habitat is higher, and fewer when the population is lower.
The states agreed to management objectives for suitable habitat based on recently updated population estimates for the time period between 2002 and 2019. At less than 831 bears, no public hunting would be allowed. At more than 1,033 bears, total mortality would not exceed 22 percent annually for males and 10 percent for independent (without cubs) females.
The Yellowstone grizzly population has met federal population recovery goals since the early 2000s, but a series of lawsuits has prevented the bears from being removed from the Endangered Species list.
Idaho contains around 8 percent of suitable grizzly bear habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wyoming contains around 58 percent of suitable habitat and Montana around 34 percent. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were delisted in 2007 and again in 2017, but were relisted through court orders, most recently in 2018. The three states agreed to revisions to continue to support grizzly bear delisting.