FWP proposes rule regarding grizzly bears

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Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing an administrative rule to codify the population objectives detailed in the conservation strategy for grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on the proposed rule during their Aug. 9 meeting. If the proposed rule is approved by the commission, it will move into a public comment period by late August and ultimately go back to the commission for final approval in December.

“By proposing this administrative rule, we are committing to keeping a viable and healthy population of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem,” said FWP director Martha Williams. “It’s an important step toward federal delisting of the bears, as well as an important piece for the future of grizzly bear conservation and management in Montana.”

The NCDE subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) completed the conservation strategy (igbconline.org/n-continental-divide-subcommitte/) earlier this summer. This document summarizes the commitments and coordinated efforts made by the state, tribal and federal agencies to manage and monitor the population and its habitat upon delisting.

The conservation strategy identifies a demographic monitoring area (DMA) that is home to the core population of grizzly bears in the NCDE. The DMA is comprised of the primary conservation area (which includes Glacier National Park and parts of five national forests including the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex), and an area identified as zone 1, which is a buffer zone outside the primary conservation area. The objective in this area, as detailed in the conservation strategy, is continual occupancy by grizzly bears, which will require maintaining good habitat conditions and adhering to population criteria.

FWP’s proposed administrative rule centers on Chapter 2 of the conservation strategy that details grizzly bear population objectives for the DMA.

Precise population estimates are difficult to obtain. The population objective for the DMA aims to continually maintain a population size above 800 bears with at least 90 percent certainty. Effectively, this would mean managing for a population of approximately 1,000 grizzly bears in the DMA.

A draft version of the conservation strategy was open to public review and comment in 2013. Since 2013, more research and analysis has provided the IGBC better information about the grizzly bear population and how it has changed. Public and peer comments also helped lay the groundwork for an improved monitoring approach for the NCDE. These changes are incorporated into Chapter 2 of the conservation strategy.

Grizzly bears in the NCDE are still federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, though their population has met recovery goals outlined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To delist grizzlies in the NCDE, regulations must be in place to ensure they will not once again become threatened or endangered.

“By putting population objectives into rule, FWP is not only demonstrating a commitment to a healthy grizzly population, but we are strengthening the regulatory mechanisms associated with population management,” Williams said. “Additionally, the rule making process allows for ample public comment and engagement on this most recent element of the conservation strategy.”

FWP would work with the NCDE subcommittee to incorporate any changes to the rule resulting from this public process into the conservation strategy.

Public comment will be taken at the Aug. 9 commission meeting in Helena and via live video at all FWP regional offices. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and will be streamed live via video to all FWP regional offices. The meeting will also be audio streamed online at fwp.mt.gov.

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