Montana to formally request grizzly delisting

By Laura Bies

Montana plans to request that grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem be removed from Endangered Species Act protections. Credit: Terry Tollefsbol/USFWS

The state of Montana plans to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting that the agency remove grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem from the federal Endangered Species Act list.

Montana expects to file the petition after the next Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting on Dec 14.

Grizzly bears, listed as threatened across the contiguous United States, can be found primarily in four ecosystems: the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem in northwestern Montana; Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in northwest Wyoming, eastern Idaho, and southwest Montana; the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem in northeast Idaho and northwest Montana; and the Selkirk Mountains ecosystem in northwest Idaho and northeast Washington.

Grizzly bear management is on the commission’s agenda for the December meeting. The commission will specifically be voting to approve the revised Grizzly Bear Tri-State Memorandum of Agreement between Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, which deals with how the agencies will co-manage bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It has been approved by Wyoming but still awaits approval by Idaho and Montana. The NCD population of bears fall entirely within Montana and does not have a similar agreement regarding management.

Once Montana’s petition is filed, the USFWS will have 90 days to make its assessment.   Wyoming has indicated its intention to submit a similar petition, requesting that the agency delist the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears.

A species status assessment by the USFWS earlier this year concluded that “considerable challenges remain to fully recover the grizzly bear in the lower-48 states, resulting in [a] recommendation to continue listing it as threatened,” despite the fact that grizzly bear populations in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems have met the biological recovery goals established by the agency.

Montana’s petition asserts that grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem are a distinct population under the ESA and have exceeded all recovery goals. “We’ve shown the ability to manage bears, protect their habitat and population numbers,” said Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks director Hank Worsech in a press release announcing the forthcoming petition. “It’s time for us to have full authority for grizzly bears in Montana.”

The USFWS declared the Greater Yellowstone population recovered and removed the bears from the endangered species list in 2017, but that decision was immediately met with several lawsuits. These lawsuits were consolidated and resulted in a final decision to relist the bears in late 2018.

Martha Williams, who has been nominated to lead the USFWS—but who has not yet been confirmed by the Senate—also led the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, from 2017 to 2020.

Read TWS’s Position Statement on The U.S. Endangered Species Act and Issue Statement on the Delisting of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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