Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears that have been in place for more than three decades are poised to be peeled back soon. This week state and federal land managers from the Rocky Mountain west are meeting talk about what that means for the future of grizzly bear management and recovery.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, or IGBC is spending three days in Choteau this week working on a five-year-plan to guide management of grizzlies as the bear’s population grows.
Chris Smith is with the Wildlife Management Institute, a national nonprofit group with an office in Helena. He led the committee’s work Tuesday, and says the IGBC expects that grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem will be de-listed from the Endangered Species Act before their five year management plan is finalized this December.
“We anticipate the final rule to come out before the end of the year,” Smith says.
And he expects that de-listing rule for the Yellowstone bears to be challenged in court.
The IGBC’s management plan for grizzly population recovery will move toward de-listing another group of grizzlies in the next three years. Those bears live in what’s known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes Glacier National Park, the Flathead and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
The plan also calls for monitoring of bears in the Bitterroot Wilderness. Wildlife officials expect bears to enter the Bitterroot through migration, from denser population areas.
As the number of bears increases, and their territory expands, they’re starting to run into more humans, so says Jim Hodgskiss, a commissioner in Montana’s Teton County, who was at the committee meeting Tuesday.
Hodgskiss says his constituents are seeing more grizzly attacks on their livestock. And he’s concerned that with the grizzly population rising, state land managers need to be more responsive to calls to help the humans the bears are coming in contact with.
“If you call in and say you’ve got a bear in your cows or in my yard tearing things apart, going into the feed house or whatever, it would be nice if he was there in a couple hours instead of a couple days,” Hodgskiss says.
A farmer with a local Hutterite colony also told the IGBC committee that grizzlies were starting to destroy more of their crops.
IGBC committee members will take a tour of private farms and ranches in grizzly recovery zones Wednesday as they continue planning to protect grizzlies and humans as management of the bears shifts from federal to state control in the coming years.