HELENA - The Montana Senate has endorsed a bill that would let the state set rules for handling grizzly bears if the federal government removes them from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in Montana.
Senate Bill 295, sponsored by Republican Sen. Butch Gillespie of Ethridge, passed 37-13 Friday on a preliminary vote.
The bill would commit the state to managing grizzlies at their recovered population.
It would allow landowners to kill a grizzly that is attacking or killing livestock but require them to consult with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on how to respond if a bear is simply threatening livestock.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced earlier this month that it would study whether grizzly populations have recovered enough that they can be delisted in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Supporters of SB 295 say it will get the state in line with federal requirements if they are cleared to take over management.
“What this is is a step along the way,” Gillespie said.
During the floor session Friday, senators voted to amend the bill to say the state will adopt rules before delisting occurs, instead of after. Gillespie said that change was requested by federal authorities.
In a committee hearing on SB 295, it drew support from livestock owners, who said the bill would create greater legal clarity for them.
Opponents, like several conservation organizations, said the term “threatening” wasn’t well defined, and the state should put more emphasis on non-lethal management of grizzlies.