(The Missoula Stream) More than two dozen organizations and scientists have offered critiques of Montana’s proposed grizzly bear management plan, hinting at obstacles that might hinder the delisting.
With three days left until the closing of the comment period on the state’s grizzly bear management plan proposed by the Gianforte administration, 27 organizations and scientists have jointly submitted 67 pages of comments considering several aspects of the plan to the task, offering science-based solutions instead.
In particular, they raised skepticism that the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Plan would provide sufficient regulatory mechanisms to maintain healthy grizzly populations due to the focus on hunting and the lack of focus on population control and the protection of safe habitats, particularly in contact areas.
“The draft plan is flawed in its approach to preserving viable grizzly populations by promoting isolated bear populations with zero tolerance for core group relatedness,” said Chris Bachman, director of forest conservation for Yak Valley Council. “The priority focus of the plan should be restoring isolated bear populations within the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem and all unrestored grizzly populations throughout Montana by protecting essential habitats and building a public-private wild corridor that allows bears to move unmolested from primary population to primary population.” “.
The proposed plan says that FWP will not be able to handle grizzly bears outside of core areas. The groups jumped on it, pointing to the science that says grizzly bears must be able to move successfully between core areas to prevent populations from mating. This is also one aspect that has caused a federal judge to rule against the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to delist Yellowstone’s population of grizzly bears. Biologists need to prove to the judge that there is a connection between the fundamental fields.
Commentators point out that the population in the core cabinet areas – Yak, Selkirk, Bitterroot and Cascade has yet to recover. They wouldn’t be able to do this without the ability of bears to migrate from ecosystems in the Greater Yellowstone or North Continents.
“The FWP’s statewide Grizzly Bear Management Plan is based on the false premise that the grizzly bear is a restored species, not deserving of federal protection. But the plan undermines and compromises the underlying by allowing human actions to further endanger the species,” said Clint Nagel, president of the Grizzly Bear Association. Gallatin Wildlife Service in a statement that science requires protection.
Commentators oppose FWP’s proposal to estimate bear numbers using controversial mathematical models. Wildlife biologists have used a patch occupancy model to estimate bear numbers because bears are difficult to count. Recently, some statisticians have replaced the patch occupancy model with an “integrated” patch occupancy model, which results in higher numbers estimates for both bears and wolves. Some question whether the new estimates are exaggerated, and a federal judge has asked biologists to show that the models are comparable.
Commentators say the plan should be more specific about reducing roads and trails in bear country. Roads and trails that penetrate safe bear habitats often result in the death of bears, either by increasing the chance of conflict between humans or by driving bears out of areas where they are supposed to be. For example, the FWP recently proposed a logging project in the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area that would likely increase road densities above those recommended for wildlife.
“This plan shows little respect for grizzly bears or their habitat. It is a plan to keep them confined to remote areas and shoot or lock them up when they try to breed,” Keith Hammer, president of the Swan View Coalition, said in a statement.
The most controversial aspect of the state’s management of grizzly bears is trophy hunting and trapping. It was controversial when Montana developed its two previous management plans for western Montana in 2006 and especially for Greater Yellowstone in 2013.
Commentators take over 10 pages to address all their objections to hunting and trapping grizzly bears, namely that hunting does little to reduce conflict, can rapidly and indiscriminately increase direct deaths and has ripple effects such as decimation of cubs if planted and killed. Grizzly bears are very slow to reproduce, because they don’t start reproducing until they are 4 or 5 years old, then the cubs stay with their mother for two years. If too many bears or females are removed in one season, the population model will not show the problem soon enough and population numbers will start to decline.
Add to this the fact that bears can be maimed or killed by off-target trapping or injured by dogs that hunt black bears or mountain lions. Prior to the 2021 Legislature, it was illegal to use hunting dogs to hunt black bears.
“Draft Plan is a startling display of FWP’s lack of credibility with regard to a predator
Administration. Commentators have written that the FWP has a duty to manage wildlife as part of a public trust, yet the draft plan makes clear that the FWP intends to manage a small group of special interests rather than grizzly bears and the public at large.
The FWP is sponsoring a legislative bill that would formalize Montana’s management of grizzlies. It’s an unnecessary step, but outfitters, hunters and fishermen have spoken out in support, as well as Montana Stock Growers and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation.
Recently, Chris Servin, former coordinator of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Intercept that he advocated delisting the grizzly bear. But, it was before the 2020 election when the Gianforte administration took over and more far-right politicians were elected to the legislature, “bringing what he sees as a wave of fact-free ‘hysteria’ sweeping the western Rockies”. Since then, FWP Wildlife Management has become less science-based and more political.
“For years, I have been spearheading the recovery program and advocating that grizzly bears should be restored, bears removed from their lists, and turned over to the state administration because I believed so much in the state, that the state makes management decisions based on science and facts.” “I can’t support that given that politicians do what they do. And this has happened in the last two years. It’s completely new.”
Organizations that have signed the document range from national nonprofits, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watershed Project, and WildEarth Guardians, to Montana groups like the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizens Task Force, Friends of Bitterroot, and the Park County Environmental Council. . Among the scientists are biologist Frank Lance Craighead, son of famed Yellowstone grizzly bear biologist Frank Craighead, former University of Montana biologist Lee Metzgar, and wildlife researcher David Mattson.
Reporter Laura Lundquist is at firstname.lastname@example.org.