Montana Draft Grizzly Bear Plan Open for Public Comment
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has drafted an updated statewide management plan for grizzly bears and is seeking public comment until February 4.
The new plan will replace two outdated plans — one for western Montana and one for southwest Montana — with one statewide framework.
According to the FWP, existing bear plans and conservation strategies, the federal recovery plan and the work of the Governor appointed Grizzly Bear Advisory Council all helped inform the draft.
A draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) has also been completed to analyze the potential environmental impacts of adopting and implementing a statewide grizzly bear management plan. This DEIS helps guide decisions made regarding conservation and management of grizzly bears under the purview of FWP.
Approval of FWP’s preferred “Alternative B” of the plan would satisfy the largest hurdle in Montana’s efforts to de-list grizzlies from federal endangered species protections and return management authority to the state.
Support from the hunting public in the form of comments is important since hunting is part of the management plan. There has been no hunting allowed for grizzlies since a federal ruling prohibited the activity in 1991 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act.
Prior to 1991, the state had grizzly management efforts in place since 1923 when black and brown bear were first declared game animals.
Keith Kubista, past president and current director for Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (MSFW), knows that hunting is a vital part of management, in spite of anti-hunting sentiment.
“Yes, grizzly bears are important to have on our landscape,” he said. “But there's also a way to manage them in ways that create sustainability, not only for the population but for the ability to hunt them someday.”
After thirty years, US Fish and Wildlife biologists have determined that grizzly populations in the state’s two main recovery zones — the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) — have successfully recovered from their endangered status. Current estimates say that grizzly numbers are between 1,800 and 2,000 statewide.
Montana is the benchmark for grizzly recovery and management. Thanks to the work of the state’s wildlife department, grizzly populations have eclipsed federal recovery goals and bear populations are expanding into areas that haven’t seen the animals in decades, including connectivity areas between the GYE and NCDE.
Kubista thinks Montana’s tremendous success with regard to grizzly recovery and management should speak for itself, but public support is needed.
“We need the public to weigh in and support state-based management of their own wildlife,” he said. “We have four recovery zones in our state. Montana deserves to get state management control of their grizzly bear.”
The comprehensive, science-based management plan, provides goals for population numbers, distribution and connectivity, human safety, and conflict management.
The plan also includes hunting as a management practice, which is a tradition woven into the fabric of Montana’s rich history and our North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
The FWP-preferred “Alternative B”, is a forward-looking, science-based approach that will ensure the continued health of the grizzly bear population in Montana and the safety of people as the grizzly’s presence expands — and restore a hunting tradition that’s been on hold for three decades.
Jeff Darrah, retired FWS game warden and current Executive Director of MSFW, believes the plan is a good one. “FWP already does the yeoman’s share of management work,” he said. “To put this plan into place and put it back into state management, the bear will only prosper. The numbers are just going to continue to grow.”
Submit a comment to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks in support of the Draft Grizzly Bear Management Plan.
Listen to our initial conversation that started this action here: