Cecily Costello

Grizzly Bear Advisory Council Struggles With ‘Herculean’ Challenge In Missoula

Dec 6, 2019
Grizzly Bear Citizen Advisory Council members Caroline Byrd, left, and Trina Jo Bradley, right, listen as council member Chad Bauer addresses Gov. Steve Bullock at an advisory council meeting in Missoula Dec. 5.
Alex Sakariassen / Montana Free Press

MISSOULA — Chad Bauer, a member of Gov. Steve Bullock’s Grizzly Bear Citizen Advisory Council, expressed a sense of urgency and unease on the second morning of the council’s Dec. 4-5 meeting in Missoula. Bauer and Bullock sat across from each other in a crowded conference room on the University of Montana campus. Bullock had recently announced the end of his presidential campaign, and Bauer, who works as a municipal market manager for Missoula waste hauler Republic Services, was three months into his role on the council. Bullock has given the council the task of delivering recommendations on the future of state grizzly bear management by the end of next summer.

A slide showing grizzly bear morality rates shown during Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, Dec. 3, 2019.
Nick Mott / Montana Public Radio

The last two years have been the deadliest on record for grizzlies in and around Glacier National Park. There have been at least 48 grizzly mortalities this year in the area, called the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). As grizzly mortalities mount, bear managers in northwest Montana are trying to tackle the sources of rising deaths.

Grizzly bear with cubs.
(PD)

A record number of grizzly bears were killed this year in and around Glacier National Park. It’s the second year in a row of record deaths for the threatened species in the area, which is home to more grizzlies than anywhere in the lower 48 states.

But there’s disagreement over whether two years of record bear deaths should raise alarm bells.

Fred Allendorf speaks during a Nov. 15, 2019 meeting in Missoula about grizzly bear connectivity. The meeting was called by five independent researchers. Organizers Jake Kreilick and Mike Bader are visible in the background.
Nick Mott / Montana Public Radio

After Montana’s new Grizzly Bear Advisory Council met last week in Bozeman to map out a state management plan for the expanding grizzly bear populations near Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, researchers in Missoula railed against turning management over from federal agencies to the state.

As grizzly bear populations in Montana expand into areas where they haven’t been seen for generations, so does the number of potential conflicts with humans.

Sheep.
iStock

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt canceled a planned visit to Montana this week. Bernhardt had planned to meet with Montana ranchers and farmers about grizzly bear conflicts along the Rocky Mountain Front as part of his visit.

Known and probable documented mortalities of grizzly bears in the NCDE from 2004 to 2018.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

2018 has been the deadliest year since scientists started keeping track for grizzlies in Northwest Montana.

"We did have a record high number of mortalities," says Cecily Costello, a grizzly bear research biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and she’s talking about the huge swath of land in and around Glacier National Park, known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). About a thousand bears live there.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bear Biologist Cecily Costello at the Wednesday meeting
Nick Mott

Editor’s Note: After this story aired, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks contacted us about how we characterized the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem’s grizzly bear conservation strategy. See the * below for clarification.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is going ahead with business as usual on a rule related to removing grizzly bears in and around Glacier National Park from the endangered species list.

Grizzly bear track.
Jim Peaco (PD) / National Park Service

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission has set official goals for the number of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem if the animal is taken off the endangered species list, as is expected later this year.

A grizzly bear visiting a wire hair snag station near Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park (PD)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday it will propose to remove federal endangered species protections for grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem this September.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Biologist Dr. Cecily Costello speaks during the IGBC meeting in Missoula, MT, December 12, 2017.
Josh Burnham

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee is meeting in Missoula Tuesday and Wednesday to review and revise their management and research goals for the next 5 years.

A big challenge for wildlife managers trying to encourage bear movement between populations near the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems (NCDE), is the higher proportion of private land between the parks, compared to inside grizzlies’ core habitat.

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