U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt paid a visit to the Rocky Mountain Front Saturday to hear about conflicts with grizzly bears. The secretary heard numerous calls for delisting grizzlies from their threatened species status in and around Glacier National Park, but he says changes may be able to be made prior to delisting.
Secretary Bernhardt took an early-morning tour of a ranch near Choteau where grizzlies and humans frequently come in contact. Montana U.S. House Rep. Greg Gianforte invited Bernhardt on behalf of several farmers, ranchers and others living along the Rocky Mountain Front
"There’s a number of things we need to do back in Congress. This really helps making this story real. We need to reform the Endangered Species Act."
Gianforte followed recent changes to the ESA by introducing a bill that would make it easier to delist Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) grizzlies, which are threatened under the ESA. That’s something many locals called for during an hour-long roundtable with Secretary Bernhardt.
Montanans also called for transferring management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and more management resources. Tony Schoonen with the Boone and Crockett Club.
"We believe that the bear has a place in the landscape for sure. They’ve been here for centuries. Problem is we have problem bears. There’s getting to be more and more incidents of problem bears and there’s no doubt the population has recovered."
According to federal agencies, grizzlies killed seven cattle in Montana in 2013. That number jumped to 112 in 2018.
Those like Trina Bradley, vice president of the Marias River Livestock Association, say delisting would give managers more ability to euthanize problem bears, but thinks changing how problem bears are treated under the current management regime could accomplish that goal.
"We absolutely need better grizzly bear management on the Front and on the Blackfeet Reservation. They have basically run free for the last 30 years because they haven’t been managed like they should be. Problem bears have not been removed from the population like they should be."
Bernhardt said he heard comments like Bradley’s loud and clear. During a small press conference, Bernhardt said conversations about delisting NCDE bears are ongoing and added that action isn’t riding on the delisting of bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which has been tied up in court.
"Wherever we are in that process, we have some immediate challenges that we need to think about that are different today than they were even just a few years ago, and our thinking probably needs to reflect that."
But Bernhardt didn’t say how the Interior Department’s future actions may reflect that new way of thinking.