Conservation Groups Call Out Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team For Inaccurate Count 2017 Mortality

Jun 29, 2018

Several conservation organizations sent a letter to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) saying it hasn’t accurately counted the total number of grizzly deaths for 2017, and the low number could change the number of bears available to hunt this fall.

The interagency study team keeps track of grizzly bear deaths per year in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Some organizations, including the Sierra Club, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and the Center for Biological Diversity recently noticed that four bears, including one female killed in 2017, are included in the 2018 total but not the 2017 total.

Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said they’re hoping IGBST will acknowledge that the four deaths should be in the total for last year.

“If so, I think the states need to take a step back and ensure they are counting these mortalities when they are doing the calculations to determine how many bears that can be hunted this fall,” said Santarsiere.

She said it’s highly possible these four extra deaths including one female could change the number of bears available to hunt. That number would be lower.

“Wyoming does not have the allocation to take a female bear in the core habitat. I would hope that they will reconsider their hunting season,” said Santarsiere.

Wyoming, Idaho and Montana calculated the number of bears available to hunt by using the number of mortalities from the previous year. She said if the IGBST will add the four deaths to the total count of mortality in 2017 then Wyoming will have to recalculate the number of bears available to hunt.  Wyoming is allowing for one female grizzly bear to be killed in the Yellowstone region. The historic grizzly hunt is set to take place this fall.

UPDATE:

The team leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), Frank T. Van Manen, responded to the letter in an email on June 29.

In the e-mail, he said the procedures have not changed from previous years. He said the four grizzly bear deaths will be included in the 2017 annual report.

“…Therefore, we have not “failed” to attribute 2017 mortalities appropriately as you state in your letter and there is no “arbitrary departure from our previous approach” nor is there any “misrepresentation of what took place on the ground.”

Van Manen said there are procedures in place to account for grizzly bear remains found from mortalities in previous years. However, since one of the 2017 mortalities’ gender is unknown, the study team needs to wait for a genetic test until that bear can be counted in 2017’s mortality rates.

The procedures Van Manen mentions are within the 2016 Conservation Strategy (App.O, section IV) and the tri-state Memorandum of Agreement.  

Dan Thompson, the large carnivore section supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, referred to the procedure in an email response to Wyoming Public Radio. He said Wyoming Game and Fish is currently “not planning to change hunting mortality limits based on the additional mortalities that were more recently discovered, but these mortalities are being quantified and will be reported in the 2017 annual report.” 

He said the calculations to find the number of available bears for hunting also includes “an additional estimate of unknown and unreported mortalities.  Despite a conservative estimate of the population, we have a liberal estimate of mortality.”