Grizzly

A Grizzly sow snd her yearling cub roam near Roaring Mountain in Yellowstone National Park on April 28, 2017.

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A citizen-led council’s work writing the state’s long-term vision for grizzly bear management neared an end Wednesday during the group’s final virtual meeting.

Members of the governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council tweaked recommendations addressing bear distribution, outdoor recreation and proposed hunts, reaching a consensus on all items except hunting.

A draft document will be finalized by Friday, and the council will present its final report to the governor’s office Sept. 1, according to Shawn Johnson, a council co-facilitator.

Recommendations from the 18-member council that the governor’s office appointed last summer will inform future management plans from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The group includes ranchers, tribal members, conservationists and other stakeholders from around the state.

“This is the culmination of a lot of terrific work and thinking,” Johnson said at the meeting. “I’m incredibly proud of the work you’ve done together and the final product.”

Montana grizzly populations have increased over the last decade, and their ranges are expanding. As bears wander far beyond the six ecosystems that were established for their recovery in 1993, the state is looking to address increasing conflicts between bears and people.

To reduce these conflicts, the council’s report recommends that FWP hire an information, education and outreach coordinator to lead an education campaign, host bear-spray training sessions and create a statewide “Bear Aware” program.

The council’s report also requests that FWP commit resources to support conflict prevention and mitigation strategies, especially in areas of the state where people are unprepared for bear activity.

The recommendations also ask that the governor’s office and the 2021 Montana Legislature fully fund the Livestock Loss Board, which compensates livestock producers for their losses to grizzly bears.

The report recommends that management agencies add bear-resistant food storage infrastructure at campgrounds, and it encourages agencies to temporarily close trails and issue special use permits on critical bear habitat.

Identifying landscapes that are important for grizzly bear recovery and connectivity was also included. These distinctions are necessary for determining relocation sites for bears, according to the report.

Council members did not reach a consensus on whether or not hunting should play a role in management.

Members acknowledged that no hunts could occur unless the species, or individual populations of the species, lose their threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species under the ESA, meaning they can not be killed for any reason other than in self defense. Federal efforts to delist Yellowstone-area grizzlies in 2017 triggered a lawsuit from conservation groups and tribes.

Judges from the Ninth Circuit Court ruled this July to restore ESA protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, though they left room for Fish and Wildlife to pursue future delisting.

Having determined at a prior meeting that council members would never agree upon the role of hunting in grizzly management, members decided to include two columns listing reasons supporting and opposing the practice.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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