A grizzly bear walks down the Inside North Fork Road. (Hungry Horse News file photo)
By CHRIS PETERSON Hungry Horse News | December 29, 2021 1:00 AM
The drumbeat by lawmakers to delist the grizzly bear in Montana grew a bit louder recently, as Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale introduced a bill to delist the bears in much of the state. Rosendale’s move comes after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte directed the state earlier this month to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, where the population is wholly in Montana. The NCDE is about 8 million acres running from Canada to Ovando along the Continental Divide. It includes Glacier National Park. Grizzlies have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1975, though hunting of the bruins in Montana continued until the early 1990s. Last year there were 52 known grizzly mortalities in and around the NCDE. Most of those were caused by humans. Even so, biologists project the slow, but steady rise in the grizzly bear population in the NCDE in the coming years, with a range of 971 to 1,366 bears by 2023, according to a 2020 report by FWP biologist Cecily Costello. Rodendale’s bill would “direct the Secretary of the Interior to reissue a final rule relating to removing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears from the Federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and to issue a new rule removing the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population of grizzly bears from such list.” The Fish and Wildlife Service already delisted bears previously in the Yellowstone region, but a lawsuit by the Crow Tribe argued the bears had no genetic connectivity to other populations, like the NCDE. The Tribe, which opposes grizzly bear hunting, prevailed. This legislation would, in effect, do an end-around the court ruling, if it passes. It could also open up the bear population to hunting. “The science does not support keeping the grizzly bear listed under the Endangered Species Act. But unfortunately, as a result of serial litigation at the behest of radical environmentalists, the species continues to be listed as threatened today,” Rosendale said in a release. “This puts the lives of Montanans and the livelihoods of Montana ranchers in jeopardy. It’s high time we follow the science and pass my bill to delist the grizzly bear populations in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems, and return management back to the states.” One local environmental group weighed in on the Rosendale legislation. “We oppose delisting in any form, but especially through legislation by people with ill intent. The folks pushing for delisting largely want grizzly bears delisted so they can kill them with less red tape. That’s hardly local stewardship of a really unique wildlife species. People still haven’t learned to secure their garbage and quit subdividing bear habitat, yet they think they deserve to manage bears with no legal protections for them,” said Keith Hammer, chairman of the Swan View Coalition said in an email last week. “Increasing the bear population from 1% of what it once was to perhaps 2% of what it once was is hardly anything to brag about and it certainly isn’t a large, interconnected bear population.” But this isn’t the first time Congress has delisted a species by legislation, rather than through the recovery process outlined in the Endangered Species Act. In 2011, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, introduced legislation that delisted the gray wolf in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Back then, it was a Democratic governor praising the move. “I welcome the delisting of the wolf in Montana through this budget resolution,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said at the time. “This is a common sense measure that will ensure good management of wolves through Montana’s existing plan, which allows for healthy numbers of wolves and safeguards the interests of ranchers and sportsmen.” Asked about delisting grizzlies, Tester said in a recent phone interview with reporters that he would support delisting grizzlies if the science supported it. He said science supported delisting wolves back in 2011, though he questioned the state’s current wolf management plan, which looks to reduce the population of wolves by about half.