Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Jeff Hagener’s recent editorial supporting delisting of Yellowstone grizzly bears was a disappointing, but not surprising FWP position. All endangered species become federally listed because states fail to maintain them -- generating skepticism for delisting and returning management authority to the states.
FWP’s editorial emphasizes a future of bear control. Trapping, harassing, moving and killing bears will become less cumbersome and less confusing to the public.
Grizzlies were listed in 1975. Recovery goals were for numbers of animals only, without regard for population genetic quality. We can’t leave bears to future generations of us. We leave population genomes that are passed across bear generations. Much has been learned in wildlife genetics in 40 years. Justifying delisting only by meeting old numerical goals is to deny all that has been learned.
In Montana Outdoors, FWP asserts that the genetic future of Yellowstone grizzlies is secure because there has been little evidence of inbreeding. However, avoidance of inbreeding is the lowest of 3 levels of concern for genetic adequacy. A genetically adequate wildlife population is (1) large enough to avoid serious inbreeding, (2) even larger to avoid losing alleles (kinds of genes), such that benefits from past evolution and evolutionary potential for the future are both retained, and (3) is influenced by a preponderance of natural selection to maintain benefits from past wild evolution.
Skeptics believe that Yellowstone bears must be connected with those of the northern Continental Divide to maintain their genetic diversity. FWP asserts it’s not essential, that maybe a few northern bears will travel to Yellowstone, and provides a weak commitment to moving an occasional selected bear. There is no commitment to establishing a “stepping-stone” intermittent population.
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming must provide a stronger commitment to maintain and enhance the genetic adequacy of Yellowstone grizzlies before delisting is justified.