USFWS hears mixed opinions on grizzly bear recovery - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

USFWS hears mixed opinions on grizzly bear recovery

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The USFWS is hosting a meeting Thursday in Missoula. (MTN News photo) The USFWS is hosting a meeting Thursday in Missoula. (MTN News photo)

Conservation groups tell federal officials they need to focus more on preserving grizzly bear habitat if they hope to keep the bears from being extinct in the decades ahead, but people living in grizzly country say there are already too many bears causing problems.

Dennis Bragg reports those divergent views were heard Thursday as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) held a special public hearing in Missoula.

The issue of coming up with a final approach to eventually delist the bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem -- the broad area encompassing Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Conservation groups claim there's a lot more study to be done before that can happen, and additional measures such as restricting roads to prevent conflicts between grizzlies and people, preserving bear habitat.

"Connecting isolated grizzly bear subpopulations is essential to eventually recovering the species as a whole. Grizzly bears can not be deemed recovered simply because they exist in a few isolated pockets," said Kelly Nokes with Wild Earth Guardians.

"Roads probably pose the most imminent threat to grizzly habitat today. The management of roads is one of the most powerful tools available to balance the needs of people with the needs of bears," added Claudia Narcisco with the Sierra Club.

However, speakers who are coping with a sudden upswing in grizzlies spotted far out into the plains east of the Rocky Mountain Front say federal agents already have conflicts to deal with. They believe private lands should be treated differently than the vast public lands right along the Continental Divide.

"The increase in the difficulties on the east [Rocky Mountain] Front are astronomical. People with grizzlies in their yards for daycare centers. People with grizzlies trying to dig up caskets in cemeteries," said Nina Baucus with the Montana Board of Livestock.

"When the zone was formed grizzly bears were rarely scene in that area. There is now an unexpected increase in the numbers of the bears and the distance they have spread from the primary conservation area. Privately owned agricultural land is not appropriate habitat for grizzly bears," added Maggie Nutter with the Marias River Livestock Association.

This hearing was merely to collect public input, and judging from that input, it appears it could be a long time before a plan can reach an approach acceptable to a majority.

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