MISSOULA - At their annual winter meeting in Missoula, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) met to hear reports from the various ecosystem subcommittees responsible for grizzly bear recovery and management in the six recovery areas in the contiguous United States and adjacent Canadian Provinces. After over 32 years of cooperative efforts the overall news was promising about the progress being made, especially in regards to the Northern Continental Divide and Yellowstone Ecosystems.
A presentation was made to the IGBC by Frank van Manen, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), regarding a grizzly bear food synthesis report that the team a year ago had been directed by IGBC to pursue. The purpose of the report was to address the sole remaining issue that placed the Yellowstone grizzly bear back on the Endangered Species List in 2009, after it had been originally delisted in 2007 after meeting all the required population and habitat recovery requirements. The food synthesis report is a comprehensive peer-reviewed examination of the wide range of foods available to grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. A copy of the report is available at the IGBST website;
After the presentation, a motion to accept the findings of the study was made by IGBC member Jim Unsworth, Deputy Director for the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, "I move that the IGBC accept the IGBST (Study Team) Synthesis Report and endorse it as an adequate evaluation of food habits and the relative importance of White Bark Pine in the diet of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Grizzly Bears. I further move, that the IGBC recommend the USFWS (United States Fish & Wildlife Service) proceed with development of a new proposed rule to delist the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Population." The motion was supported unanimously by all the other members of the committee.
Acceptance of the report officially does nothing to trigger the delisting of grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, but its overwhelming acceptance by the IGBC is a signal to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) that they can now move forward with internal review of the status of the Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population. The USFWS will review the report and will decide in the next month or so whether to move forward with a new proposed rule to delist the Yellowstone grizzly population. If this proposed rule is developed it will be published for public comment approximately mid-2014.
In addition to discussion of the Yellowstone Ecosystem, the IGBC received detailed reports on the progress being made towards moving to propose the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem for delisting and work towards beginning a required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needed as part of the Recovery Plan for the North Cascades Ecosystem. After giving a report on the findings of her DNA study of the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, recently retired USGS Researcher Kate Kendall was given an award by the IGBC for all of her years of DNA research done on behalf of grizzly bear recovery.
The overall mood of the meeting was one of success as the health of grizzly populations was detailed. The agencies again resolved to assure the long-term future of grizzlies by working together.