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Grizzly Bear Delisting

Greater Yellowstone Area

After nearly 41 years under Endangered Species Act protection, the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Area has reached recovery. Once the delisting rule is final, this ESA success story will mean management of the bears in the GYA will transition to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Conservation efforts in Montana and by Montanans have been instrumental in recovery of this iconic species.

The goal of the ESA is to recover threatened and endangered species and, with adequate monitoring and safeguards in place, turn over management to the states. We have achieved this goal, all recovery criteria have been met, the bear is recovered, and assurances are in place to maintain a healthy and viable population of bears in the GYA.

Photo of grizzly bear

What's happening?

  • The GYA grizzly bear population has been recovered for over a decade; The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service delisted grizzlies in 2007 but that decision was overturned by a federal court due to what appeared to be a diminishing food source. That issue has since been addressed.
  • With the court's concerns about a previous delisting proposal addressed, recovery goals met, and the states' commitment to maintain a recovered population in place, the USFWS published a proposed rule to delist federally threatened grizzly bears in the GYA.
  • Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are committed to cooperatively managing the recovered population throughout the GYA, and have formalized this commitment through adoption of a tri-state Memorandum of Agreement (PDF).
  • The protections for grizzly bears that brought them to recovered status aren’t going away.
  • Management of grizzly bears in Montana will be conservative, and will be similar to how they have been managed for the past decade, with an emphasis on minimizing conflicts between bears and people, while allowing bears to occur where they are tolerated.
  • Upon removal from the Endangered Species List – in late 2016 at the earliest – the states will carry out their grizzly bear conservation and management commitments for GYA grizzly bears. If the state decides to allow hunting, seasons would be very conservative. This is illustrated in a hunting season regulation framework (PDF) that was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in July 2016.

Regulatory Assurances

In the proposed rule to delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service included as a requirement of delisting that regulations must be in place that will serve as adequate regulatory mechanisms over human caused mortality. Specifically, those regulations are to include:

  • Suspending all discretionary mortality inside the Demographic Monitoring Area (DMA), except if required for human safety, if the model-averaged Chao2 population estimate falls below 600;
  • Suspending grizzly bear hunting inside the DMA if total mortality limits for any sex/age class are met at any time during the year;
  • Female grizzly bear with young will not be available for recreational harvest; and
  • In a given year, discretionary mortality will only be allowed if non-discretionary mortality does not meet or exceed total mortality limits for that year.
  • Any mortality that exceeds total mortality limits in any year will be subtracted from that age/sex class total mortality limit for the following year to assure that long-term mortality levels remain within prescribed limits inside the DMA.

To meet this delisting requirement, as well as demonstrate MFWP’s commitment to manage grizzly bears in a conservative and sustainable manner post delisting, MFWP proposed, and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the following regulations:  a hunting season regulation framework (PDF)]  that would apply to future hunting seasons if Montana decided to hold such a season; and a tri-state Memorandum of Agreement (PDF) that clearly describes how the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming will collaboratively manage grizzly bear mortalities to ensure agreed upon mortality limits for the ecosystem are adhered to. 

These documents are considered final rules, and have the force of law behind them through authority granted to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in Title 87 of the Montana Code Annotated.

It should be noted that while these binding regulatory mechanisms have been approved through formal Commission rule-making processes, there currently is no open hunting season for GYE grizzly bears, nor will there be until the population is delisted and the Fish and Wildlife Commission approves a specific season moving forward and specific quotas.

Role of USDA Wildlife Services

  • Wildlife Services is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that deals with wildlife conflicts, especially those associated with depredation of livestock.
  • FWP bear management specialists will continue to work with Wildlife Services to address damages to livestock caused by wildlife. Wildlife Services will continue to be primarily responsible for field investigations to determine the cause of livestock injury or death.
  • FWP and Wildlife Services will work together with livestock producers to reduce the risk of loss and resolve conflicts.

Role of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The USFWS' important role in recovering grizzlies in the GYA includes:

  • writing the proposed delisting rule
  • scrutinizing state plans for adequacy post delisting
  • providing ample opportunity for public comment on the proposed delisting rule, incorporating relevant public comment, and issuing a final delisting rule
  • continuing to work with FWP to delist grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem
  • providing funding for delisting efforts
  • monitoring population and implementation of management plans for five years post delisting to ensure the population remains recovered and management commitments are being met