State, federal and tribal wildlife officials are figuring out what returning Yellowstone-area grizzly bears to the endangered species list means for managing other populations of the animal.
The federal court ruling in Missoula last month re-listing the bears said it was illegal to strip federal protections for one population of grizzlies without taking into account how that might affect members of the species elsewhere in the lower 48. A meeting on one of six areas designated to support grizzlies - the Bitterroot Ecosystem, which contains parts of Montana and Idaho - was postponed Tuesday morning since a number of stakeholders weren’t able to attend.
Chuck Mark, chair of the Bitterroot Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, a coalition of groups that oversees grizzly recovery, says that federal court ruling sets up a key question for the subcommittee when it is able to meet.
"What are the implications and impacts that could have on the other recovery areas? AKA the Bitterroot, for one."
Although some adventurous males have been spotted nearby, Mark says the Bitterroot doesn’t yet have any resident bears. But they’re getting closer and closer.
"They’re on our doorstep. There’s no doubt about it."
Wildlife managers hope that grizzly populations in the lower 48 will eventually connect and even interbreed. They say this is especially likely between residents of the two largest grizzly groups, which live in the areas around Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
Those connections are likely to happen in or near the Bitterroot.
The subcommittee is in the process of rescheduling the meeting for November. Separate meetings on the Yellowstone Ecosystem will be held by teleconference on November 1 and on all grizzlies in the lower 48 on December 11 and 12 in Missoula.