A new way to count Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears?

Grizzly Bear

Photo credit: Dreamstime

A possible change to the way grizzly bear populations are counted has caused concern for some grizzly bear conservationists. While the current formula, called Chao 2, is said to underestimate overall bear numbers “by up to 50 percent,” the new method under development has some worried that “it could lead to increased hunting and other bear deaths” and “undermine existing safeguards for the bears,” the Casper Star Tribune reports.

The new “integrated population model” could be presented to the Yellowstone Grizzly Coordinating Committee as early as next year despite a long-term agreement that federal and state officials continue to use Chao 2 for the “foreseeable future,” according to the Casper Star Tribune. However, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Frank van Manen, who is a member of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, says that “the desire for greater accuracy has been present for decades” and warrants a scientific approach.

“It’s poor policy not to progress with science,” says van Manen. “How the policy makers — the managers, the agencies that sit around the table — how and if they incorporate any new information in the future is really their prerogative. My task is to supply the most reliable science to the committee. We do not make recommendations to managers. We don’t set or influence policy that way.”

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Chao 2, which has been used for years, it is not considered a perfect method to count bears; however, it is reliable. Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk says that changing how the bears are counted could result in a significant drop in overall bear numbers. Continued use of Chao 2 would ensure that all bear managers are counting the animals consistently. Van Manen’s model is a collaborative effort between researchers in three ecosystems and “would reconcile possible biases in population estimates, survival estimates and mortality estimates.” However, it doesn’t mean that the model would “lead to a higher estimate for grizzly bears” or be necessarily better than the current system, according to the Casper Star Tribune.

“There’s no suggestion from us that something would change,” says van Manen. “We simply report scientific findings and facts to the committee. It’s entirely up to the committee to incorporate that into their policies.”

Regardless, before a new model can be adopted, it would need to be approved by policy makers, who would need to weigh the pros and cons of using a new system. That, like all new policies or legislation, is not a fast process.

Stay tuned to goHUNT for further information.


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