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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Congress hears bills to remove federal protections for wolves and grizzlies

Closeup of a grizzly bear.

A trio of bills to remove federal protections for wolves and grizzlies debuted Thursday before Congress.

The three bills would delist gray wolves nationwide as well as grizzly bear populations in Yellowstoneandnear Glacier National Park.

One of the bills is carried by Congressman Matt Rosendale, a Republican representing Montana’s eastern district. He told the House Committee of Natural Resources Thursday that northwest Montana’s grizzly bear population is thriving.

“They’re growing around 3% each year in northwestern Montana and they’ve even begun moving outside they’re designated recovery zones,” Rosendale said. “I’m glad we were able to recover from the critically low grizzly bear populations that we saw back in the 70’s, but it has not come without significant drawbacks.”

Namely, according to Rosendale, mounting human-grizzly conflicts and livestock depredation.

Western conservationists however blast the measures as extreme and politically motivated.

Retired bear biologist Chris Servheen was the U.S Government’s point man on grizzly recovery for 35 years. In years past, Servheen sometimes frustrated conservationists with his belief that the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem populations are recovered.

He told congress Thursday he’s since changed his mind.

“It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that if grizzly bears were delisted by congressional action and turned over to state management, that the legislatures and governors would do the same thing to grizzly bears that they are currently doing to wolves,” Servheen said. “They would try to legislatively minimize grizzly numbers inside recovery zones and eliminate most grizzly bears outside recovery zones.”

Montana’s 1st congressional district Representative, Republican Ryan Zinke, is listed as a co-sponsor on all three measures.

None of the bills are expected to make it out of the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, but some critics suspect supporters will try to attach them as riders to other must-pass legislation.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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