HomeOutdoorsNewsHandling of ‘Problem’ Grizzly Bears Has Wildlife Advocates Suing Montana Feds

Handling of ‘Problem’ Grizzly Bears Has Wildlife Advocates Suing Montana Feds

by Jon D. B.
young grizzly bear in Montana
Two year old grizzly bear (captive), Montana, United States. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

According to three Montana-based organizations, the continuing trapping, relocating, and euthanizing of “problem” grizzly bears is actively working against the species’ recovery in the state.

So says the lawsuit proposed by the Western Environmental Law Center on January 18. Their target? Multiple federal land and wildlife management agencies and officials involved in the relocating and euthanizing of Montana grizzlies.

As per the argument of WildEarth Guardians, Trap Free Montana, and the Western Watersheds Project, such actions are prohibitive to the species’ recovery under the Endangered Species Act. Grizzly Bears are currently threatened under the act, with four of their six designated recovery zones existing in Montana.

“This case challenges Wildlife Services’ May, 2021 decision to continue its predator damage management (‘predator removal’) program in Montana,” the lawsuit cites, “which involves the use of traps, snares, aerial shooting, chemicals, poisons and other methods to capture and kill native predators, including threatened grizzly bears.”

Specifically, the lengthy lawsuit is aimed at the activities of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS offers predator management assistance in Montana, which directly contributes to the loss of endangered grizzlies in the state. Several prominent individuals are also targets of the suit. Dalin Tidwell, the director of the Montana state office, is among them. As are the U.S. secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Deputy Administrator of APHIS Wildlife Services.

Montana is Paramount to Grizzly Bear Conservation

In short, the more these organizations trap, relocate, and kill grizzlies, the less this endangered species is able to recover naturally in Montana. And Montana remains the most critical battleground for the species as bear encounters and attacks rise.

As WildEarth states in their press release, “The lawsuit filed today maintains that Wildlife Services and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately consider and analyze how killing and removing dispersing grizzly bears (including females) moving between Montana’s recovery zones is adversely affecting the species’ long-term recovery in the region.”

A major recovery goal for grizzlies within the Endangered Species Act is to create a connection between two (currently) separate populations. These are the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem populations. This would not only improve genetic diversity for the species, but embolden the bears’ health across the board. Both populations, which currently hold over 1,000 grizzlies each, cannot self-contain forever. They need to be able to naturally spread their territories as grizzlies do.

According to USFWS’s most recent grizzly bear report, natural connectivity should occur in the near future. Both the GYE and NCDE populations are expanding naturally, and are now only 35 miles apart. But the more federal agencies trap, remove, and kill grizzlies within this area, the less likely this connection – and the overall revitalization of the species – is to happen.