Idaho officials have scheduled two public meetings as part of a process to potentially open a grizzly bear hunting season this fall that would allow the killing of one male.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is gathering comments to draft regulations that the Fish and Game Commission will consider in May.
The first meeting is set for Tuesday at the College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls, and the second on April 19 at the Riverside Hotel in Boise.
A potential hunting season “really speaks to the success of the recovery of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem,” said Toby Boudreau, Idaho Fish and Game assistant wildlife chief.
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.
“Idaho has very few grizzlies compared to Wyoming and Montana, and contains important travel corridors for grizzlies to potentially connect with other populations,” said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that filed a lawsuit.
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. The result is that this year, Idaho can hunt one male bear and Montana six male bears. Wyoming can hunt 10 male bears and two female bears.
A much larger region includes additional bears not within the monitoring area. Wyoming’s proposal allows the killing of 12 bears in that additional area.
The limited number of females that can be killed within the Demographic Monitoring Area has Idaho, with none, and Wyoming planning to take precautions.
Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for Wyoming Game and Fish, said only two hunters will be allowed in the field at a time. If a female grizzly is killed, only one hunter will be allowed in the field to make sure the limit isn’t exceeded.
“My sense is that all grizzly bear hunters are going to have a desire to kill a male bear,” he said.
Idaho is not allowed to kill any females, and telling male from female grizzlies can sometimes be a challenge.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to help that hunter not take a female,” said Boudreau, noting some type of instruction will likely be required before a person can hunt a grizzly in Idaho.
Boudreau said the agreement between Idaho, Montana and Wyoming on grizzly bear hunting allows some flexibility. He said a female inadvertently killed in Idaho this year could lead to reduced allowable numbers of bears that could be hunted next year.
If hunting seasons occur in Idaho and Wyoming this fall, they would be the first since grizzlies received federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Federal officials lifted those protections last year.