HELENA, Mont. - Conservation groups alleged Tuesday that Wyoming used part of Montana's grizzly bear hunting quota to increase its own allocation for a proposed hunt this year, even though Montana wildlife regulators voted not to give away any part of its quota.
A Montana wildlife official denied there was an agreement to give a portion of its grizzly allocation to Wyoming, and a Wyoming official walked back the claim.
Wyoming's proposal for its first grizzly hunt in decades sets a quota of two female and 10 male grizzlies. That quota rounds up from the state's actual allocation of 1.45 females and 9.86 males under a formula used by Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to decide hunting quotas.
The formula is part of a new three-state agreement for managing grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park after U.S. officials lifted federal protections last year for the approximately 700 bears living in the region.
Several lawsuits are pending that challenge the decision to turn over management of grizzlies to the states.
The agreement was crafted in an attempt to keep the grizzly population at a healthy level amid criticism that the grizzly population is still too fragile for hunting.
Montana's Fish and Wildlife Commission voted not to hold a hunt this year but to keep its allocated quota of 0.9 females and 5.8 males. Idaho is still considering whether to hold a hunt based on its allocation of 0.1 female and 0.9 male bears.
Center for Biological Diversity attorney Andrea Santarsiere said Wyoming officials told the audience multiple times in an April 12 public meeting in Pinedale that Montana agreed to reduce its allocation so Wyoming could set its quota using whole numbers.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States argue that states shouldn't be able to borrow from one another to increase their quotas, and that Wyoming should only be allowed one female bear in the proposed hunt.
Dan Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said he may have misstated at a public meeting that Wyoming was taking Montana's grizzly bear allocation.
"If I did, I was wrong to do so," Thompson said.
Santasiere said it wasn't Thompson who made the comments at the April 12 meeting. The groups also said that more than one Wyoming wildlife official at more than one public meeting claimed that Montana agreed to give Wyoming a portion of its allocation.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon said Tuesday there was no agreement with Wyoming to reduce the Montana allocation, and the issue of rounding up those fractional numbers is unaddressed in the three-state memorandum of agreement.
Representatives from the three states agreed in a January meeting a hunt using fractional numbers wouldn't work, and they agreed in principle to round those numbers up or down, but no deal was formalized, he said.
"It's obvious the rounding thing and how those numbers work wasn't thought all the way through when the MOA was drafted," Lemon said. "I think what we're seeing is that we've got some things to work on."
Thompson said the three states continue to discuss the hunt quotas.
Thompson noted that Wyoming's proposed grizzly bear hunt includes unique protections. For instance, if two female grizzly bears are killed early in the hunt, the hunt will immediately end even if no male bears have been killed, he said.