U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be more involved in managing Rocky Mountain Front grizzly bear conflicts.
Bernhardt announced the new directive in a letter to Montana’s lone U.S. House member and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte. Republican U.S. Senator Steve Daines received a similar letter. The letter also calls for more funding for conflict specialists in Montana.
Bernhardt wrote that Fish and Wildlife will, "play a more conclusive role when deciding how to handle problem bears and will enter into a contract with the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (Wildlife Services) to help implement those decisions." The letter did not provide more specifics.
Gianforte invited Sec. Bernhardt out to Choteau last fall to hear from ranchers, community members and local elected officials who say the expanding grizzly population in and around Glacier National Park is moving further onto the front, leading to livestock depredations and posing a threat to human safety.
Gianforte says he’s happy with Bernhardt’s response and says it’s conclusive with the Endangered Species Act.
"The secretary is essentially putting some additional tools in the toolbox to help us deal with problem bears as we work towards delisting," he says.
Bernhardt’s letter says the administration will direct more funding to Wildlife Services, which investigates livestock depredations, to hire more bear conflict specialists in Montana.
Bernhardt wrote in the letter that Interior will also work to update guidelines for hazing bears. Montana Public Radio requested more details from the department about the new directive and a timeline for the policy changes, but did not hear back by deadline.
Gianforte said his office will keep in close contact with the Interior Department as more details about Bernhardt’s directives become available.