A grizzly bear walks along the Swan Lake Flats in this 2005 file photo.

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The citizen-led Grizzly Bear Advisory Council this week released a final report guiding future state management of the species.

Grizzly bear populations are geographically expanding, and a tremendous amount of resources is needed to respond to the expansion, said Nick Gevock, a council member and the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation.

As bears move farther away from the remote recovery zones that were established for their protection decades ago, they’re expected to come into contact with more people. “We can’t apply models from these areas to new landscapes,” Gevock said. “We need education and conflict reduction.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock ordered a citizen-led advisory council to form last summer because “existing management plans did not fully anticipate grizzly bear distribution across the landscape,” according to the executive order. His office recruited 18 people with a variety of backgrounds and interests to draft recommendations for state agencies.

The council’s final report addresses education and outreach, conflict prevention, connectivity between populations and potential hunts.

Council members recommended bolstering “Bear Aware” programs, organizing training sessions to teach people how to use bear spray and hiring a full-time coordinator for information, education and outreach. They also requested adding more bear-proof infrastructure in campgrounds.

“You don’t want bears seeing homes as easy food sources,” Gevock said.

The final report recommends full funding for the Livestock Loss Board, which compensates livestock producers for any losses to grizzlies. It also calls on agencies to fund conflict prevention programs, which aim to prevent bears from preying on livestock.

Carcass removal, range riders and electric fencing are all tools used to reduce depredation, and non-governmental organizations are putting time and money into prevention measures, Gevock said. “If there’s a basic level of public funding, matching funding will be there.”

In their report, council members encouraged state agencies to study areas that can support connectivity between isolated bear populations. They also requested that agencies identify areas where bears can be relocated when needed.

Bonnie Rice, a senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club in Bozeman, said she was pleased with the council’s recommendations for conflict prevention but would have liked better recommendations for achieving connectivity between isolated bear populations.

“If they’re going to recover, grizzly bear populations are going to need to connect with each other, not boxed into some arbitrary lines,” she said. “We need to see these populations expanding, and we need to see them connect.”

The council did not determine whether state agencies should organize hunts, so the report includes two columns listing reasons for and against the practice. Members also included guidelines for managing hunts, assuming they were to occur.

Under the guidelines from the council, female grizzly bears with dependent young and their cubs couldn’t be hunted. Hunters could only receive one tag in their lifetime and would have to take training courses focused on grizzly bear ecology, identification and safety. Out-of-state hunters would have to hire a licensed guide.

“Most Montana residents and people across the country oppose hunting grizzly bears,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, according to a news release. “Hopefully Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will listen to and respect this majority.”

Gevock said that to some extent, the council did reach a consensus on hunting, since they laid out the parameters for a hunt if it were to occur.

“Any time you’re getting 18 people with diverse viewpoints to agree, it’s going to be difficult,” he said.

Council members handed their report off to the governor’s office for review Thursday, one day after senators discussed transferring management of Yellowstone grizzlies to the state.

While the bears are still federally managed, efforts to delist Yellowstone area grizzlies are ongoing. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled this July to restore Endangered Species Act protections for the population of bears, but authorities can still pursue future delisting.

“The judge laid out a roadmap for states to put out sound management plans,” Gevock said. “That process is already happening.”

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