Despite a tough year for the grizzly bear population in the Idaho-Montana-Wyoming recovery region, the government's grizzly recovery coordinator says specialized hunts for nuisance bears are under review.
Chris Servheen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the hunts would be rarely authorized but would give hunters the chance to bag grizzlies that would have been trapped or removed from the wilds anyway.A similar nuisance grizzly hunt is on the books in Montana, Servheen said in explaining the latest version of the recovery plan in Idaho Falls.
Eight grizzlies have been lost so far in 1990, one of the worst years in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Four were shot by hunters, and the death rate has left bear experts puzzled and alarmed.
Some believe the death rate could delay recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly population, estimated at no less than 200 bears. The grizzly is listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
With local public pressure to balance the grizzly recovery against other land uses from ranching to recreation, bear managers seemed to have little interest in making major policy changes.
"I don't know what we'll do," Servheen said. "I don't expect any closures of any areas" to hunting.
But hunters may need to be better educated about grizzlies, he said. One bear shooting appears to have been in self-defense, he said, but in at least two cases, hunters seemed to have stumbled upon a sleeping bear and shot at close range.
"In two of the cases the bear wasn't trying to hurt anyone at all," Servheen said. "It was trying to get the heck out of there."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is putting together a task force to look at the mortality rate and determine if there is a possible cause that has been overlooked, although Servheen speculated that it might just be random.
Some controversy has arisen over the removal of a grizzly from Yellowstone National Park's Lake Hotel area this summer.
The grizzly sow with cubs had been fishing for spawning cutthroat trout along a tributary of Yellowstone Lake before it was trapped and shipped to a research lab in Washington state. While it wasn't killed, the bear was labeled a mortality since it was removed from the ecosystem.
"It was doing exactly what it should be doing. The problem was it was doing it in view of people," said Marv Hoyt of Idaho Falls, a member of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "Why don't we manage people more effectively?"
Servheen said the bear had to be removed to avoid a dangerous conflict with visitors since she would inevitably have attacked someone in defense of her cubs.
"We could not allow that to happen," he said, maintaining part of the problem is the fact that the century-old Lake Hotel was built in prime grizzly habitat.
"You're talking about a 100-year-old hotel. It can't be moved," Servheen said. "Admittedly, if you had to build it today you wouldn't build it there."