MISSOULA – Managers with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks say new regulations to protect set populations of grizzlies in Northwest Montana are only going to be used if the federal government no longer considers the bears a “threatened species.”
But people at a hearing in Missoula worried that the grizzlies on the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) are nowhere near recovery.
“What you’re seeing tonight is for one very small limited regulatory mechanism which would be in place after — if — we get to delisting the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear,” said FWP attorney Bill Schenk.
FWP began developing the grizzly population targets for the NCDE several years ago, anticipating the eventual de-listing of the bears by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The state and its partners estimate there are more than 1,000 grizzlies now in the country which includes Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Rocky Mountain Front and the Flathead.
FWP biologists say that’s far above the 800 grizzly population threshold set for recovery, even using conservative population models.
The agency would also build in a “buffer” to make sure the target is maintained. The agency is pledging to protect “connectivity” between the NCDE bears with the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirks and even the Bitterroot.
But some of the critics of state management worry about what they call “ghost bears”, questioning biologists’ numbers and saying bear mortality is higher than estimated.
They testified this week’s ruling reversing the decision to “de-list” bears around Yellowstone should also give everyone more time to review the numbers.
“Roads and road-related effects are taking a large toll on the breeding population. In summary, following the court ruling, you have an opportunity to pull back this document and start over again in a way that is scientifically and legally sufficient.,” bear consultant Mike Bader said.
A final hearing is set for Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell on Thursday night.