A grizzly bear at Yellowstone National Park. Credit: National Park Service/flickr

This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

In anticipation of eventual delisting, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has produced a proposal to guide grizzly bear management in Montana, which is home to more than half of the Lower 48’s grizzlies.

In an introduction to an Environmental Impact Statement accompanying the plan, FWP Director Henry “Hank” Worsech said the proposal forwarded by FWP will support a more coordinated approach, increase clarity surrounding state management of grizzlies, and strengthen the regulatory mechanisms required for grizzlies to be delisted.

On Tuesday, FWP announced the release of three versions of the plan: a 217-page draft proposal, a 202-page environmental impact statement analyzing potential outcomes if the state adopts the plan, and a 15-page FAQ that highlights some of the plan’s key directives.

Three pieces of the plan that are likely to garner considerable interest include the state’s strategy for handling bears that stray outside of established recovery zones, how wildlife managers will deal with bears that come into conflict with humans by, say, killing livestock or damaging property, and whether FWP will support a grizzly bear hunting season.

Before being driven to near-extinction in the 20th century, grizzly bears were widespread in North America, ranging from the Pacific Coast to the Mississippi River. Though wildlife conservationists celebrate the fact that grizzly populations are growing and dispersing, that same recovery puts wildlife managers in the difficult position of mitigating conflicts between humans and bears as the two species push further into each others’ habitats.

USFWS has identified four grizzly bear recovery zones located at least partially in Montana. The August 2020 report, produced by the Grizzly Bear Advisory Council, stresses the importance of achieving connectivity between these recovery zones.

FWP’s plan recommends that grizzlies wandering east of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem be “tolerated only insofar as they remain conflict free” and says “grizzly bear presence would not be an objective in areas far from their largely mountain habitats and in prairie habitats where agricultural development predominates.”

The plan includes squishy language regarding population objectives, saying the development of statewide minimum, maximum or optimum population objectives “would not be useful.”

The proposal also says grizzlies could be subject to a recreational hunt if the governor-appointed Fish and Wildlife Commission establishes one. Such hunts “would most likely be focused on (although not restricted to) areas where connectivity is unlikely,” the plan continues.

FWP is accepting comments on the plan and environmental impact statement through Jan. 5.

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Amanda Eggert studied print journalism at the University of Montana. Prior to becoming a full-time journalist, Amanda spent four years working with the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. After leaving the Forest Service in 2014, Amanda worked for Outside magazine as an editorial fellow before joining Outlaw Partners’ staff to lead coverage for Explore Big Sky newspaper and contribute writing and editing to Explore Yellowstone and Mountain Outlaw magazines. Prior to joining Montana Free Press’ staff in 2021 Amanda was a freelance writer, researcher and interviewer. In addition to writing...