MISSOULA - Although there’s no specific action on the table, some people are worried grizzlies along the Northern Continental Divide are about to lose protection as a threatened species -- a step they see as ruinous for the bears’ future. Others believe there are so many bears it's getting tough to have them as neighbors without more state control.
There’d been indications this week’s Missoula meeting of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Subcommittee would draw a crowd, and it did. Although the business agenda was cleared quicker than scheduled, people from a variety of backgrounds wanted to talk about the grizzlies future in and around Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Front.
That included people sporting badges calling for the bears to stay listed, saying its “premature” and shouldn’t be taken away until there are “several thousand bears”, not just several hundred.
“Since we are all from a common creator, a common mystery, we’re children of that common mystery," said Jack Gladstone. "And since we’re all children of that common mystery we are brothers and sisters. It’s that simple. If we chose to accept our responsibilities towards one another we will protect the bear. If we defy this responsibility we will let the bear perish. And we will not be too long after the bear.”
Despite growing accounts of bear conflicts with ranchers and hunters, especially on the Rocky Mountain Front, they believe steps can be taken to keep grizzlies and people safe.
“Tell them to go hunt somewhere else," said Mike Jarnevic. "I mean if you live in Montana and you hunt here, and you come from outside this state you have to deal with the fact that we have grizzly bears. Carry bear spray. I mean there are solutions to this.”
“If the bears have easy access to all these things, of course, they’re going to come down and have a picnic," said Patty Ames. "But if you make it harder for them and they have negative consequences, they’re going to learn to stay away from those areas.”
Ranchers and residents, however, want more help, "if we take care of the problem bears, more of the good bears are going to stay alive,” said David Waldner.
While much of the discussion here was about de-listing of the grizzlies when the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meets in Missoula in a couple of weeks, they’ll actually be looking at the Conservation Strategy, how to manage the bears regardless of what happens with their protection status.
That’s work that is set to take place between now and next summer.
“Dust off that draft strategy, incorporate the public comment where it’s new and meaningful and produce a final strategy, Conservation Strategy, and then bring it to IGBC to approve and then for the chairman and the directors to sign," said NCDE Subcommittee Chiar Jim Williams. "That document, that Conservation Strategy, is a real important document because it’s how we’re going to take care of grizzly bears into the future in Montana. We’re all pretty excited about it.”
Judging from Wednesday’s turnout, it’s not just the scientists and biologists that are getting excited. The larger, Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee will meet for two days in Missoula on Dec. 12 and 13.