FAIRFIELD, Mont. – As the State of Montana awaits a response to its petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), Governor Greg Gianforte today heard concerns from residents of Teton County about rising conflicts with grizzly bears as the species expands its territory to prairie areas east of the Rocky Mountain Front.
“The recovery of the grizzly bear in the NCDE is a success story thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of Montanans over decades,” Gov. Gianforte said. “With the bear now recovered and its territory expanding to areas not seen in over a century, it’s time for the state to take over management of this iconic American species.”
Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, grizzly bears in the NCDE have far surpassed population recovery goals set by the federal government. At the time, the population of grizzly bears in the lower 48 was estimated to be in the hundreds. The population in the NCDE alone today is estimated at approximately 1,100 bears.
“Delisting the grizzly bear is an ESA success story. But a larger grizzly population means increased odds of conflict, and Montana needs more tools to manage this species. If we don’t get those tools, our communities, families, farmers, ranchers, and recreationists will continue to bear the burden of federal regulation and excessive litigation under the ESA,” the governor said.
As grizzly bear populations have increased in the NCDE, conflicts have increased with farmers, ranchers, recreationists, and residents.
When asked about the top concern regarding rising grizzly bear conflict, Marty Klinker, owner of Rocking K Land & Cattle, responded, “Public safety is number one.”
Late last year, the State of Montana submitted its petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delist grizzly bears in the NCDE and allow Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to assume full management of this native species.
Despite federal rules providing FWS 90 days for their initial response to Montana’s petition, the state has yet to receive a response.
In addition to members of the community, representatives of Montana’s ag industry were present at the roundtable.
Speaking to the impact of the bear’s expansion on the ranching community, Montana Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President Jay Bodner said, “Montana ranchers are seeing an upward trend of livestock losses due to depredation. As grizzly bears continue to exceed recovery criterion and increase in population, Montana ranchers need access to management options and resources to keep their herds safe from depredation.”
“MSGA would like to thank Governor Gianforte for holding today’s roundtable to discuss the expansion of grizzly bears and giving the ranching community a way to share our concerns and potential solutions of the issue,” he continued.
Beyond seeking to delist grizzly bears in the NCDE, the state’s petition also asks the FWS to designate the NCDE bears as a distinct population segment (DPS). In doing so, the petition also seeks to expand the DPS well into eastern Montana. This would allow for the delisting of grizzly bears across most of the northern half of the state.
In accordance with the NCDE Conservation Strategy and administrative rule, FWP is committed to keeping a viable and healthy population.
In 2018, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a population objective for the ecosystem to maintain a population size above 800 bears with at least 90 percent certainty.
Upon delisting, existing state laws and administrative rules become the primary regulatory and legal mechanisms guiding management.
FWP monitors grizzly bears in the NCDE with the best available science and a team of dedicated specialists. FWP established a monitoring program in 2004 that tracks the survival and reproductive rates of radio-marked grizzly bears throughout the ecosystem. Every known or probable grizzly bear mortality is documented. This long-term program works in cooperation with other state, federal, and tribal agencies.
Although grizzly bears in the lower 48 states have remained under the jurisdiction of FWS, much of the day-to-day management is done by FWP’s specialists who work with landowners and the public to address conflicts and increase safety and education in bear country.
Office of Gov. Gianforte