As the federal government prepares to remove Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in the area around Glacier National Park, bear management experts say public acceptance of grizzlies will be crucial to their long term survival.
Chris Servheen saw what a difference that can make in his 35 year career as the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"When I started as recovery coordinator in 1981 there was not a lot of public support for grizzly bears. There was a lot of skepticism about why do we want these animals around, and particularly, why do we want you damn feds around," Servheen said.
Servheen retired last year. In a talk at the University of Montana Tuesday he said grizzly populations in the U.S. have rebounded since the '80s, and that public support is one of four key pillars to the recovery of the species. The others are having good biological data, an organization capable of managing recovery efforts, and the last is political support for recovery.
Cecily Costello, a research biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks addressed the challenge of connecting the island population of grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem with those around Glacier National Park. She said recovery has been successful around Glacier, in part, because 83 percent of the recovery area is federally owned land. But the territory between the parks, Costello said, is about 50 percent private land.
"Future management of bears has everything to do with public acceptance, and everything we can do to increase public acceptance is the way to conserve grizzly bears," Costello said.
Costello and Servheen were panelists at a forum on grizzlies put on by a group called the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force. They’re concerned about the expected removal of Endangered Species Act protections for Northern Continental Divide Grizzlies around the end of this year. The group hosted panelists with contrasting views on whether the population is ready for that.