Researchers who gathered in Kalispell today said there now appear to be enough grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem to move toward taking that population off of the endangered species list.
Cecily Costello says that since 2004, the Northern Continental Divide grizzly population grew from over 700 bears to close to 1,000 last year.
“From a numbers standpoint I think that's a defensible number of bears to delist.”
Delisting the northern grizzlies from Endangered Species Act protection appears justified, Costello says, in part because population growth is on an upward trend of 2.3 percent a year. And while more grizzlies are dying every year, Costello says that the increasing population is keeping up with the number of deaths.
Two things are holding up grizzly delisting in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. One: the delisting process in the Yellowstone ecosystem. That will need to finish before the northern population is considered. Two: wildlife managers need to set the stage for what happens after delisting.
“What everyone has to do is get together and to develop this conservation strategy so that after they are delisted there is still enough procedures in place to maintain the population.”
Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Chair Deb Mucklow says management of human-bear conflicts is one of the biggest aspects of grizzly recovery.
“The bears are expanding and moving into areas that people aren’t used to seeing the bear. And so that could be in the neighborhood here at Lone Pine. Some of those are being kicked out as they grow up, they don't get to have the same home range as their mom had. So they've got to find other places.”
When those other places are near people, that can a be problem. Bird seed, trash, livestock, and pet food attract bears.
“As the bears are increasing more out on the prairie the conflicts with some of the grain storage are with some of our farming communities.”
The information presented at Wednesday's meeting will inform a larger interagency dialogue in Missoula next week about the grizzly population throughout the Northwest.