Montana Takes Big Step Towards Allowing Grizzly Bear Hunting at Glacier, Yellowstone National Parks

by Jennifer Shea
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Montana is moving toward allowing grizzly bear hunting at Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. But that’s pending the removal of federal protections for the animals.

Wildlife officials in the state on Tuesday moved ahead with several steps that could lead to grizzly bear hunting in the national parks, the Associated Press reports. Montana wildlife commissioners voted to join a multistate plan that would allow limited hunting of the bears, with a target population of over 900 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wyoming has already approved the plan.

The commissioners also granted preliminary approval of new population targets for the Glacier area that would leave room for hunting if federal protections of grizzlies are lifted. The new targets would keep a population of more than 800 bears in the northwestern part of the state.

Montana grizzly bears have been a threatened species since 1975 and were thus protected from hunting.

State Officials Are Petitioning the Federal Government to End Grizzly Protections

But last month, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said his administration will petition the Biden administration to remove the threatened species status of grizzlies around Glacier National Park. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon also wants to lift protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears.

The state officials join livestock and hunting groups in calling for the culling of grizzly bears to protect livestock and humans. They point out that grizzlies prey on livestock and occasionally attack humans.

Wildlife advocates accuse officials in that area of wanting to deplete the populations of grizzlies and gray wolves. They say the animals are necessary to the broader ecosystems there. And they are fighting the effort to end federal protections.

The push to remove protections “aims to turn Wyoming’s imperiled grizzly bears into trophy hunting targets,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s Andrea Zaccardi told WyoFile.com.

In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended maintaining threatened species status for grizzly bears. Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks boast the highest U.S. populations of grizzly bears outside Alaska. Up north, hunters are allowed to shoot the bears.

Multistate Plan Utilizes New Counting Method

The multistate plan tries to address criticisms raised by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court struck down the Trump administration’s decision to delist Yellowstone grizzlies in 2017. It said that state wildlife managers had not explained how they would devise more accurate counting methods. Nor had they made provisions for genetic diversity and viability in the isolated Yellowstone grizzly population.

State wildlife officials say they have considered those criticisms. The plan’s new counting method puts the grizzly bear population at roughly 1,o69 bears, a 47 percent increase from the 727 estimate in a report last year.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division chief, Rick King, said last Tuesday that the multistate plan “directly address[es]” the court’s complaints.

Conservationists aren’t so sure. “The grizzly bear population did not explode overnight,” Zaccardi told WyoFile.com.

Outsider.com