Gov. Steve Bullock announced today he is forming a Grizzly Bear Advisory Council. The goal is to spur discussion on grizzly management, conservation, and recovery across the state.
Greg Lemon with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks says the new Council is a chance to rethink grizzly bear management in the face of changing populations.
“What we have not been able to do before this is really sit down with a broad representation of Montanans and talk about how Montana wants to move forward with grizzly bear management, recovery and conservation," Lemon says. "And this will provide us that opportunity.”
Gov. Bullock says Montana needs to take a leadership role in grizzly management following contention over their recovery status. In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Endangered Species Act protections for bears in Montana’s Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but last fall a federal court decision relisted the population.
Lemon says managing bears based on individual recovery zones -- of which four exist in Montana -- isn’t as practical as it once was. Grizzly populations have surpassed recovery goals in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems, not but in the Bitterroot and Cabinet-Yaak. And bears have started moving out of those recovery zones into areas like the Big Hole Valley, Little Belt Mountains and the plains east of the Rocky Mountain Front. That means more conflicts with humans.
Lemon says the council will provide opportunities to talk about all of this.
“This is a response to the existing paradigm we find ourselves in where we do have some areas with expanding grizzly bear populations, we’ve been in and out of courts on delisting. We just realized that we need to really consider the opinions and values of all Montanans and bring people together to have this broad conversation," he says.
The council will be in charge of making a list of recommendations for bear management in the state, considering topics like human-bear conflict, hunting and ecosystem connectivity.
A total number of council members has not yet been set. Bullock says he is looking to represent a broad range of interests including livestock producers, conservation groups and tribal representatives.
Applications are due by April 12.