By Harv Forsgren, Outgoing IGBC Chair and Scott Talbott, Incoming IGBC Chair
It has been nearly 30 years since the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee was created to coordinate the wide range of state, federal and provincial resource agencies sharing responsibility for recovering the grizzly bear. Once delisted, grizzly population management is handed off to state and provincial wildlife agencies, allowing federal resources to be shifted to the recovery of other grizzly populations and endangered species.
The IGBC provides direction for the subcommittees responsible for recovery work at the ecosystem level. The IGBC’s goal is to analyze the varying ecosystem factors and to formulate a wide range of mechanisms in order to create the unique combination of biological and social conditions needed to achieve recovery into the future.
From a population standpoint, two of the ecosystems have reached the goals set to signify biological recovery. However, we have learned that recovery is based on human acceptance as well as biological factors. People living and working in recovery areas must be included because, without human acceptance, all the biological fixes in the world will not bring back and sustain a species as envisioned by the Endangered Species Act.
The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation began in the mid-1800s and is responsible for our greatest wildlife recoveries. The model utilizes conservation based on the best available science and the consideration of the human role.
Paradoxically, much of the success has been driven by the support of those who hunt and fish, including the recovery of endangered species. Through sportsmen dollars generated from license sales for the quarry they pursue, they have worked to insure that needed habitats exist for thousands of wildlife species and that populations are managed properly.
Much of the great wildland legacy we have today can be attributed to the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt. He contributed to the model based on his knowledge as a sportsman and his understanding of the value of wild places. Sportsmen since Roosevelt have carried the burden of conserving wildlife and the habitats they need to thrive.
Despite the incredible accomplishments associated with grizzly bear recovery, there has been great uproar over the consideration of a statement supporting the use of regulated hunting as a possible management approach for grizzly populations that are recovered and delisted. IGBC agencies have collectively and unanimously endorsed regulated hunting as one approach to promote coexistence, to manage populations and to reduce conflicts between bears and humans.
Our support is limited to regulations that reflect the best available science, are established in a public process and are consistent with standards in the ecosystem-specific conservation strategies that guide the management of delisted populations.
The recovery of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems is an excellent example of how people living and working in grizzly country recognize the value of grizzly bears and represents one of the nation’s most significant conservation achievements.
As recovery efforts continue to succeed, bear populations will increase, and conflicts will increase as more bears move into human occupied areas. Unchecked grizzly populations in areas of high human density will compromise the value and tolerance people have for grizzlies.
We know grizzly bears will require continuous management to ensure conflict with humans is minimized and to keep bear distribution and numbers aligned with social tolerances and biologically suitable habitats.
Waiting until delisting occurs to discuss options for managing bear numbers and distribution is irresponsible. In order for recovery to be successful, the IGBC believes it is important that an open and honest dialogue occurs regarding all facets of recovery and management.