BOISE, Idaho — Idaho officials have started the process of opening a grizzly bear hunting season this fall that would allow the killing of one male grizzly.
The Fish and Game Commission in a 7-0 vote Thursday directed the Department of Fish and Game to gather public comments on the possible hunt.
The department will use those comments to draft a possible grizzly bear hunting season for the commission to consider in May.
"There would be a lot of interest in the possibility of a grizzly season," Commissioner Derick Attebury said after the meeting. Attebury represents the portion of eastern Idaho where the hunt would occur
The process for making comments and possible public meetings haven't been announced.
About 700 grizzlies live in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Montana doesn't plan to hunt grizzlies this year, while a proposal in Wyoming would allow the killing of up to 24.
Wildlife advocates and Native Americans have filed lawsuits to restore Endangered Species Act protections for the bears and prevent the hunts.
"It's disappointing that another state is moving in the direction of hunting grizzly bears," said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The group is a plaintiff in one of several lawsuits seeking to restore protections for Yellowstone grizzlies.
The formula for the number of bears that can be hunted in each state involves a region surrounding Yellowstone National Park called the Demographic Monitoring Area. The number of bears for each state is based on how much land area is in the monitoring area.
The number of bears allowed to be hunted in total is based on mortality studies of bears. The end result is that this year, officials say, Idaho can hunt one male bear, Montana six and Wyoming 10 within the monitoring area. Two female bears are also included, but not allotted to a state.
A much larger region includes additional bears not within the monitoring area. Wyoming's proposal allows the killing of 14 bears in that additional area. Toby Boudreau, Idaho Fish and Game assistant wildlife chief, said Idaho wasn't looking at hunting in that area this year.
Santarsiere questioned Idaho's ability to hunt one male bear with no females allowed, noting hunters could mistakenly kill a female.15 comments on this story
Boudreau said most hunters would be inclined to hunt male bears. He said any inadvertent killing of a female would be subtracted from the following year's hunt allotted to the three states. Boudreau said the killing of multiple female bears could possibly shut down hunting seasons.
"Whatever your feeling about grizzly bears," Boudreau said, "this is one of the West's greatest conservation stories. It's a pretty small timeline that we've actively managed grizzly bears to a point where (hunting) is even a possibility."
If hunting seasons occur in Idaho and Wyoming this fall, they would be the first since grizzlies received federal protections under the Endangered Species Ace in 1975. Federal officials lifted those protections last year.