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Plan calls for more grizzlies in Cabinet-Yaak

| September 22, 2006 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

The draft management plan for grizzly bears in western Montana calls for the introduction of 10 to 15 additional bears into the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem over the next five years.

During a public hearing on the plan Tuesday night in Libby, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks endangered species coordinator Arnie Dood acknowledged that the population augmentation target — which focuses on sub-adult to early adult females — will be "a challenge to accomplish."

The plan, which is projected for adoption by the end of the year, calls for the eventual increase in the Cabinet-Yaak bear population from an estimated 30 to 40 bears to 90 to 125. A population of 500 bears is envisioned for the Northern Continental Divide area to the east.

Dood noted that the separation between the two ecosystems is "becoming blurry," and that wildlife managers would like to see that trend continue.

"As we move into the future, we hope that that continues to occur, that these spaces are filled in," he said.

That blurring of the lines "has huge implications," Dood said, "legally, socially and politically."

Bears are being seen in areas outside formally designated recovery zones, Dood said. The state's policy is not to pre-suppose a problem with that but to address problems if and when they arise, he said.

"There really isn't any place in western Montana where you could not potentially encounter a grizzly bear," he said.

Those interested in bear recovery don't want to see conflicts between bears and people, livestock or property, Dood said. Support for augmenting bear populations and for the species itself will dwindle if conflicts increase, he said.

Tuesday's meeting in Libby was one of a series of 11 being held around western Montana.

The draft plan, which is intended to guide the state's management of grizzly bears for the next decade, is available online at fwp.mt.gov/publicnotices/notice_1137.aspx. It can also be obtained by calling the FWP regional headquarters in Bozeman at (406) 994-4042.

The public will have until Oct. 3 to comment on the draft.