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Gianforte petitions feds to delist northwest Montana grizzly bears

Grizzly bear in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift Endangered Species Act protections more than a thousand grizzly bears in northwest Montana.

“We worked on grizzly bear recovery for decades. We were successful and switched to a focus on conflict management years ago,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director Hank Worsech said in a release. “We’ve shown the ability to manage bears, protect their habitat and population numbers. It’s time for us to have full authority for grizzly bears in Montana.”

Grizzlies are increasingly moving beyond the boundaries of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and creating conflict, particularly along the Rocky Mountain Front and east into the prairies, part of their historic range.

But environmental protection groups have long argued against delisting individual populations of grizzly bears in the Lower 48.

“Delisting is appropriate when grizzly bears have recovered as a whole population rather than taking this piecemeal approach,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney focusing on carnivore conservation with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

There are six federal recovery zones for grizzly bears in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Washington state. While populations have rebounded in and around Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, there are other zones where the bears are either rare or nonexistent. That includes the Bitterroot Recovery Zone stretching from the Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border to the wilderness areas of central Idaho.


The petition seeks to designate northwest Montana's grizzlies as a distinct population segment, which could mean lifting ESA protections there even if bears in other recovery zones remain listed. But managing grizzly populations in isolation is partly why courts rejected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2017's delisting rule.

USFWS has 90 days to respond to Gianforte’s request. Earlier this year the agency completed a five-year review and said grizzlies still warrant protections.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Nate Hegyi is a roving regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at Nevada Public Radio. You can reach him at natehegyi@protonmail.com.

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