Conservationists raised a ruckus last week over the quotas outlined in Wyoming’s proposed grizzly bear hunt. State wildlife officials there have recommended a harvest of 12 grizzlies — 10 males and two females — across six hunting districts near Yellowstone National Park. The Sierra Club and a half-dozen other organizations argued those numbers were too round; Wyoming’s allocation of huntable grizzlies is actually 1.45 females and 9.86 males.
The question underpinning the scuffle is how fractions came to be part of a hunting quota to begin with. Harvesting half a grizzly sow would be pretty much impossible without leaving the other half just as dead. Wyoming is one of three states now charged with managing Yellowstone’s delisted grizzly population, and it, along with Idaho and Montana, settled on a formula for divvying up discretionary mortality (bears killed by humans under government authority) in a 2016 tri-state memorandum of agreement.
The way Toby Boudreau, assistant wildlife chief with Idaho Fish and Game, sums it up is pretty straightforward. State agencies agreed to a total mortality limit for grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone area based on the estimated population. From that, they subtract the number of bears they anticipate — based on historical data — will die naturally, get hit by cars, be removed for preying on livestock, etc. What’s left is the number of bears available for hunting in all three states. Divide that by the landmass of the recovery area outside the park in each state (58 percent for Wyoming, 34 percent for Montana and 8 percent for Idaho) and you get the individual harvest allocations.
Of course, that formula results in some funky numbers. Idaho’s allocation, for example, pencils out to 1.4 males and 0.2 females. The agency’s current proposal calls for a single-tag hunting season for one male grizzly and no hunting for females. “Obviously Idaho will never have a big number of grizzlies allocated for harvesting,” Boudreau says.
Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips says the three states will have to reach an agreement every year on how to round out the numbers. In fact, the tri-state memo stipulates that Idaho, Wyoming and Montana collectively establish mortality limits every January. The primary consideration in those discussions, Phillips adds, is that the allocations never exceed the overall mortality cap for the population.
Wyoming Fish and Game spokesman Renny MacKay insists there was “no horse-trading” involved when it came to Wyoming’s proposed quotas. Everything, he says, occurred as part of the process outlined in the tri-state memo. However, the state’s proposal actually calls for a harvest of 24. In addition to the 10 males and two females allocated under the interstate agreement, Wyoming proposed a hunt on 12 grizzlies of either sex in two other hunting districts outside the recovery zone, where federal officials have opted not to cap post-delisting hunter harvests.