Report suggests how to best manage grizzly bears

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | September 15, 2020 7:00 AM

Gov. Steve Bullock’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council issued its final report to the governor on Thursday, offering a host of recommendations by consensus on how best to manage grizzly bears once they’re removed from the Endangered Species List.

The recommendations cover a wide swath of grizzly bear-related actions, from continued funding of bear management biologists to education programs on on-lethal methods to deter bears and protect people, livestock and pets.

It also calls for full funding of the Montana Livestock Board to compensate ranchers for losses from grizzly bears. Bears have expanded their range to the east in recent years and conflicts with ranchers that are well away from the Rocky Mountain Front have been on the increase.

Bullock formed the 18-member council in July of last year and the group spent a year developing the report.

While there was consensus on most topics, the committee parted ways on hunting bears. Fourteen members supported a limited hunt of grizzlies, while four did not.

Opponents cited several concerns about hunting, including overall impacts on bear populations and migrations of bears between conservation areas. They also claim hunting would not target problem bears.

The pro-hunting members noted that the North American model of game conservation includes hunting. They also argue regulated hunting could provide a tool to manage bear numbers.

A hunt, if it comes to be, should be limited in size and scope, the recommendations say, with a tag being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The hunt should have seasons that avoid killing of females, targeting only individual bears, without the use of bait or other attractants. They also recommend that hunters be strongly encouraged to carry bear spray, though the recommendations stop short of requiring it.

The document immediately drew critics.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Council did not come out strongly against a trophy hunt which could dramatically set back recovery efforts,” Bonnie Rice, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone/Northern Rockies campaign, said in a prepared statement. “Failing to recommend against a trophy hunt goes against an overwhelming majority of public comment as well as the position of Tribal Nations who hold the grizzly sacred and strongly oppose trophy hunting.”

The Blackfeet Tribe in the past has said it opposes a grizzly hunt and even held protests in Glacier National Park a few years ago.

But there’s a push to get at least some of Montana’s grizzly bear populations de-listed sooner rather than later.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines announced last week he would introduce a bill to delist the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where about 750 grizzlies roam the landscape in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho near Yellowstone National Park.

Daines said in a press release his bill would also prevent any further court action on grizzlies in that region. That population was delisted at one point, but a federal judge ruled the bears couldn’t be delisted until the government could establish that there was genetic interaction of grizzlies between ecosystems, like to the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem to the north, where there are more than 1,000 bears living in and around Glacier National Park. That case has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit which hasn’t made a ruling yet.

There are also wide swaths of land that once held grizzlies in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming that have few, if any bears today. That includes the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

Conservationists have long argued that those areas should have viable populations of grizzlies before the population as a whole should be delisted.

The full grizzly bear committee report can be read and downloaded at: https://fwp.mt.gov/ fishAndWildlife/management/ grizzlyBear/gbac. html