As grizzly bears in and around Glacier National Park and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem move closer to a possible delisting, a plan for management for the bears is nearing a final publication. A committee in charge of organizing grizzly bear recovery in the region met Wednesday in Missoula.
Bear managers say grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), in and around Glacier National Park, are ready for federal protections to be lifted, which could allow a hunting season for the bear.
Members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee say removing Northern Continental Divide grizzlies from the endangered species list could happen by 2020.
They say a plan is nearly complete for how an expanding population of grizzlies in the area will be managed.
"This is a document that as a group; tribes, states, federal agencies, are going to use to take care of bears moving into the future, whether they are delisted or not."
Jim Williams is the outgoing chair of the committee in charge of grizzly recovery in the NCDE. He works for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Williams says a plan for future bear management is expected before summer.
An initial draft conservation strategy for grizzlies in the region was published in 2013. Since then, there’s been a lot public input on what should happen next. Many conservationists oppose removing federal protections for Glacier-area grizzlies. They want the new plan to tightly restrict the number of allowable grizzly deaths each year, if delisting moves forward.
They’re also concerned about the future preservation of grizzly bear habitat, and say delisting shouldn’t happen until populations of Glacier-area bears have connected to those in Yellowstone and other parts of the West.
Williams says public comment will be considered as the final conservation strategy is written this winter.
He says some of the science that helped shape the initial conservation strategy is outdated and need updating in the final plan, but Williams says many of the outlined requirements for habitat conservation are final.
"The Forest Service has actually adopted the proposed standards already, they’re going through their revision process for all the forest plans in the NCDE and they’re somewhat ahead to adopt those habitat standards that will maintain security for grizzly bears."
The exact details on what could change in the updated conservation strategy are not yet clear.
That strategy must be approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. That’s expected this summer as the IGBC moves to finalize its overarching five-year-plan for grizzly bear recovery.
The IGBC next meets December 12, in Missoula.
A committee overseeing the management of the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly population is meeting this Thursday and Friday at Chico Hot Springs. That committee is beginning to shift its efforts from recovery to management following the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzlies this summer.
You can see the draft NCDE grizzly bear management plan here; https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/science/PeerReviewDocs/NCDE_Grizzly.pdf