Feds may consider delisting more grizzly bears in stateSource: Great Falls Tribune
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HELENA – A federal official said Thursday that next year her agency would consider delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which is home to nearly 1,000 ursines.
The comments by Hilary Colley, grizzly bear recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, came during a review by the state’s Environmental Quality Council which was hearing a report on grizzly bear delisting.
The discussion included comments from some committee members and the public to ease restrictions on the bears.
The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem would be the second such area in the state where grizzly bears are delisted, as in June federal officials said bears in the
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have recovered to the point – from 136 grizzly bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today — where federal endangered species protections could be removed.
The 9.600-square-mile area in question is near Choteau, north of Helena, east of Kalispell and stretches to the Canadian border. It includes Glacier National Park, parts of the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations, parts of five national forests and four wilderness areas, including Bob Marshall.
Cooley said if warranted, the recommendation to delist the area will be looked at next year.
Officials offered praise of the bear’s comeback in Montana.
“The recovery of the grizzly bear is a success story,” said Martha Williams, director of the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department.
She said her department was working with Idaho and Wyoming to manage the delisted grizzlies and added that the bears remain listed throughout the rest of Montana.
She estimated there were 50 grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem in the northwest corner of the state and said it was not known if there were any grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Ecosystem at the present time.
Cooley said six lawsuits have been filed opposed to the delisting of the Yellowstone bears, asking the protections be restored.
Most suits claim the Yellowstone bears are still threatened because climate change has made traditional food sources scarce and because of increasing conflicts with humans. One challenge filed by Native Americans from seven states and Canada says hunting bears goes against their religious and spiritual beliefs.
This is the second time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lifted protections for grizzlies in the Yellowstone region — 19,000 square miles of forested mountains, remote valleys and small towns.
The bears lost their threatened status in 2007, only to have it restored two years later by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy.
Molloy said federal officials had failed to show bears could adapt to the loss of a key food source, the nuts of the whitebark pine tree, which scientists say has been decimated by climate change.
Rep. Brad Hamlett, D-Cascade, asked the criteria on setting up the bear recovery zones and distribution areas.
Cooley said while there were a lot of bears on the east front, there were no plans to bring bears to the areas.
“Miss Cooley, I don’t think you need a plan because they are headed there on their own,” he said.
He said the state’s FWP needs to be the lead agency on bears.
Hamlett said grizzly bears are a plains animal and forced into the mountains because of hunting. He said it would be natural for the bears to go back to the plains.
“To put them on mountain peaks is a flawed policy,” he said.
Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, who chairs the committee, said he would like to see the federal recovery plan revamped, adding the rules regarding bears also impact issues such as cutting timber.
“Bears don’t eat trees,” he said. “When bears are used as a tool to prohibit activity that is wrong.”
He called on federal officials to internally change policy.
Jim Brown, speaking on behalf of the Montana Woolgrowers Association, said there is not a lot of coordination between agencies regarding grizzly bear population and that there seemed to be “tone deafness” by state and federal officials.
“There’s a lack of trust by members of folks working the ground of the Rocky Mountain Front,” he said.
Nick Gevock of the Montana Wildlife Federation asked that a statewide grizzly bear plan be developed.
Butch Gillespie of the Marias River Livestock Association, which has members in Glacier, Liberty, Pondera and Toole counties, said quick action is needed and added the issue has dragged out “too long with too many consequences.”