This week, a group of 18 Montanans appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock is meeting to finalize its recommendations on how the state should manage grizzly bears.
Grizzlies in the lower 48 states were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Bear populations in and around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks have ballooned in the subsequent decades.
As those populations have gone up, so have the number of bear-human conflicts. In their draft form, the council's recommendations include increasing funding for education and conflict prevention, and promoting connections between grizzly ecosystems – which wildlife managers say is essential to the long-term health of the species.
Council members have not reached a consensus on the role of hunting in grizzly management. Grizzly hunting remains illegal, but the state and federal governments say both the Yellowstone and Glacier populations of bears have recovered. Montana could institute limited hunts if the bears are removed from the endangered species list.
The council also continues deliberations over how to delineate where bears belong and where they don’t as populations expand, especially to the prairies east of the Rocky Mountain Front.