Grizzly committee delays endorsement of conservation strategy

June 21, 2018 GMT

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Tuesday delayed a decision on whether to endorse a new strategy that would guide the recovery of the grizzly bear population in Northwest Montana.

While the group had originally scheduled a vote on the newly-revised strategy for their summer meeting in Polson Tuesday, IGBC Chairman Matt Hogan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the public would need more time to review the 326-page document, which was not made available on the Service’s website until late last week.

The committee is made up of state, tribal and federal land managers and biologists from Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington.

“We’ve decided to delay that we can fully consider the comments we get from the folks that are going to address us today,” Hogan said.

The decision not to act was welcomed by many in packed audience, but others were still unhappy with the process.

“The IGBC is essentially acting here like the KGB. That is not what any of us want to see. We want that promised public review and comment period that gives us time to read the document, to actually see the thing and understand it,” Keith Hammer of Swan View Coalition told the committee. ”“It’s of no comfort today to hear we’re not going to make that decision today on endorsement like we said we were. You say you want our comments. Our comment is that we haven’t seen the document yet. Why should the public believe the promises you’re making to grizzly bears if you won’t keep your promises to the public?”

Those sentiments were echoed by Michele Dietrich of the Friends of the Bitterroot.

“The conservation strategy that we all commented on, that’s five years old now. There have been significant changes to it. The public really needs and deserves the opportunity to comment again on these revisions,” she said.

Hogan pointed out that the committee’s vote would only have endorsed the strategy, it would be up to the individual agencies to carry them out.

“At the end of the day, the conservation strategy is approved when the individual groups sign it. The role of this executive committee is to endorse or not endorse this strategy,” he said.

“This is not a regulatory document. This is not a decision making document. It is a document that pulls together these authorities with mechanisms by which we are going to maintain the population into the future,” Scott Jackson of the U.S. Forest Service said. “The strategy is a documentation of all these efforts, along with the laws and commitments that the agencies make.”

Grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, but the Grater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly population of more than 700 bears was delisted late last year, a decision that is currently being challenged in federal court.

Originally drafted in 2013, the proposed conservation strategy outlines a plan to maintain the grizzly population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) after the animals are removed from endangered species list. That decision is expected to come in the fall of this year.

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Cecily Costello, about 1,050 grizzlies inhabit the mountains from the Canadian border south through Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the surrounding Flathead, Helena-Lewis and Clark and Lolo national forests. The proposed conservation strategy would aim to keep that population above 800 at all times.

Montana FWP officials announced Tuesday that they plan to hold an administrative rule review of Chapter 2 of the proposed strategy, which concerns how to count grizzly bears, estimate their growth rates and what to do if those rates decline to levels that threaten the bears’ genetic diversity or species survival. That review will include an extensive public comment process.