The Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission will consider a rule Thursday for maintaining a healthy number of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, in anticipation of the animal being taken off protections under the endangered species list.
The NCDE is home to the largest population of grizzlies in the lower 48, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said earlier this year said they will propose delisting in the area this fall.
Keith Hammer, chair of Swan View Coalition, a group that advocates for grizzlies, says the federal government stated there would be opportunity for public input on the entirety of the conservation strategy for the NCDE. The more than 300-page document was available for public review in 2013, but there’s been no input since, Hammer says, and this rule alone doesn’t constitute anything close to that opportunity.
"That’s a bait and switch," Hammer says. "You know, it’s like we wanna make sure that if they do this process with the state that nobody misconstrues this as being the broader public review of the entire document that was promised by federal Fish and Wildlife Service."
The FWP rule proposes that officials must be 90 percent certain that the bear population in the NCDE stays above 800 animals.
But Hammer says the population-focused rule doesn’t pay enough attention to another crucial factor to the health of the species.
"Equally important is to have habitat-based recovery criteria," he says. "What habitat do these animals need to survive? And so we find ourselves in places like we are this summer, with unprecedented numbers of grizzly bears being struck on highways."
In order to delist the animal from Endangered Species Act protections, measures must be in place to ensure the grizzly does not face continued threats to the health of its population.