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Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzlies could be deliste - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzlies could be delisted

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HELENA - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders could soon make a proposal to remove grizzly bears in north central Montana from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The announcement was made on Thursday during a presentation to the state Environmental Quality Council.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director Martha Williams said it’s estimated around 1,000 grizzlies are currently in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

That area includes Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and much of the Rocky Mountain Front. Wildlife managers said it appears likely that population will be stable.

The Northern Continental Divide is one of a small number of “recovery zones” in Montana, where wildlife managers are trying to reestablish stable grizzly populations.

Others include the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which currently has around 700 bears and the Cabinet-Yaak area, which has around 50.

If the Northern Continental Divide grizzlies are delisted, Montana FWP will take over chief responsibility for managing them.

Hilary Cooley, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator, said there are still several steps to take before the Northern Continental Divide population can be formally delisted.

The steps include analyzing habitat in the area and getting a formal status evaluation.

“We think sometime next year if we believe it’s warranted, that a proposal would be out,” Cooley said.

After the proposal is released, the agency will have a year to take public comment before making its final decision.

Cooley said FWS is not ready yet to propose delisting the grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak. The agency is working from a recovery plan that sets 100 bears as the population target.

Several lawmakers from Lincoln County questioned whether the Cabinet-Yaak area could realistically support that many bears and asked FWS to reconsider its recovery plan.

Other lawmakers brought up concerns about increased contact between grizzlies and humans in the areas bordering recovery zones.

Grizzly bears are currently considered a threatened species across the lower 48 states, except in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

FWS delisted the population in that area earlier this year and returned management to the state. However, Cooley said there are currently six lawsuits challenging that decision.

Williams said there is still a great deal of work to do in managing grizzlies but said these results show there has been success so far.

“The fact that we are now talking about one population already delisted and the other well on its way, I think is something that we need to celebrate,” she said.

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