Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) has drafted a management plan for grizzly bears in southwest Montana if the population is removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act (delisted). This plan follows on the heels of Wyoming and Idaho grizzly management plans, completed earlier this year. Unfortunately, there are significant holes in Montanas plan.
Grizzlies require large blocks of unfragmented, undeveloped wild lands in order to survive. It is important that Montana's management plan includes a concrete strategy for protecting grizzly bear habitat, and that special protections are afforded to bear habitat that connects Yellowstone to other ecosystems.
There is clear evidence that this grizzly bear population is at long-term risk due to increased human population, development, isolation from other populations and mounting threats to their key foods. With all of these challenges, now is not the time to delist -- grizzlies must be protected for our families, for our future
The draft management plan for grizzly bears is inadequate and does not protect Montanas premier wildlife species. We need solid, quantifiable protections for grizzlies and their habitat, yet no substantial protections exist in the current draft. This plan needs many changes including the following:
1. PROVIDE ACCOUNTABILITY - The plan includes many "considerations" but few requirements for agency action. There is no program schedule or implementation plan to demonstrate that certain provisions of this plan will be carried out, and how. The plan needs to be changes to: 1. add details on how the plan will be implemented; 2. provide benchmarks for evaluating the success or failure of the plan, and a process for examining these yearly and releasing the results to the public; and 3. seek the authority to enforce sanitation/food storage orders and habitat protection for grizzly bears on public lands (e.g. road closure enforcement, illegal ATV use), which will be necessary to implement the plan.
2. NO GRIZZLY HUNT: Montana should throw out plans to renew a grizzly bear hunt. There is clear evidence that the Yellowstone grizzly bear population is at long-term risk due to the increasing human population increases in southwestern Montana, ongoing development of important grizzly habitat on public and private lands, threats to key grizzly bear foods, and the isolation of Yellowstone grizzly bears from other populations north and west. Furthermore, the high levels of human-caused mortality in Yellowstone must be brought under control before a hunt is considered. Montana must redouble current efforts to reduce the two greatest human causes for bear mortality: habituation and big-game hunting conflicts.
3. PROTECT HABITAT: Habitat protections must be strengthened in this plan. Grizzlies require large blocks of unfragmented and undeveloped wild lands in order to survive. Clear cutting, road building, oil and gas development, off-road vehicle use (ORV) and real estate development continue to degrade important grizzly bear habitat. This reduces their ability to forage and increases their chances of conflict with humans. The following changes/additions need to be made to the plan:
*Phase out sheep allotments in occupied grizzly bear habitat.
*Special protections should be afforded to bear habitat that connects Yellowstone to other ecosystems. Stronger directives should be given to leveraging FWP state private lands protection funds for this effort, perhaps matched with private and federal lands.
4) ENSURE ADEQUATE FUNDING: The state must commit adequate funding to ensure that the plan is implemented, recognizing the loss of ESA Section 6 funding after delisting, and this plan needs to document where additional funds will come from.