Montana's largest grizzly bear population may lose federal protections
Grizzly bear recovery continues to be a hot topic in the West. Last week, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) announced it would meet to discuss the status of Montana’s largest grizzly bear population. Up for consideration? Whether these grizzly bears will also be removed from the federal Endangered Species List.
According to the Casper Star Tribune, IGBC is looking to “possibly adopt the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem conservation strategy,” which outlines how state wildlife agencies manage grizzly bears should the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service move forward with delisting them. Federal protections have already been lifted for grizzly bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and both Idaho and Wyoming are currently moving forward with a fall grizzly hunt. Montana decided not to hold a hunt this year; there are several lawsuits – including one scheduled to begin in August –aimed at stopping the fall hunts.
While the IGBC may approve the conservation strategy this week, it will be far from final as it will still need to go through the public review process, which means a full delisting will take some time.
“We’ve got an initial draft, but it has a lot of review to go through,” FWS Grizzly Recovery Coordinator Hillary Cooley told the Casper Star Tribune. “We don’t have a specific date right now, other than by the end of 2018.”
As part of the review process, the IGBC executive committee plans to check out the National Bison Range and sections of the Mission Valley that are impacted by grizzly activity. While the IGBC executive committee’s endorsement helps propel the delisting proposal forward, Cooley says that other agencies like the National Park Service, state wildlife manages and Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal governments all “sign separately,” according to the Casper Star Tribune. Regardless, the plan proposes mortality limits to keep the grizzly bear populations healthy. Otherwise, if numbers dip again, the grizzly bears could be relisted as endangered.