HELENA – During the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Monday, commissioners adopted a strategy for future management of grizzly bears within the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
The management plan is intended to guide Montana’s management of grizzly bears should they become delisted as an endangered or threatened species.
“Basically it says we will manage for a 90 percent probability of never going below 800 bears, which mean in reality we have to manage about 1,000 bears to meet that probability,” said Ken McDonald, fish and wildlife’s chief of wildlife. “Right now the population is at about 1,050 bears.”
In partnership with the tribes, managers from federal and state agencies created the draft “Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.”
McDonald said people shouldn’t expect any major changes to bear management immediately if grizzly bears lose their protected status.
“It basically continues the management that we have been doing all along,” he said. “A lot of people think it means we’re going to somehow change our management, but in reality it just sort of institutionalizes what we’ve already been doing and how we’ve been managing the population.”
As for hunters, McDonald said there are still criteria to be met before Montana would see grizzly bear hunting. He said the number of licenses would most likely be very small.
“If they were delisted, and if the commission adopted a hunting season, there potentially could be very limited hunting,” said McDonald. “It would be very conservative, and that hunting would count against the mortality limit just like anything that causes a bear to die.”
FWP’s Grizzly Bear Demographic Objectives come on the heels of a U.S. District Court judge vacating a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which removed protections for grizzly bears living outside Yellowstone National Park.
Of the states that were affected by the initial delisting, Montana was the only state to not move forward with grizzly hunting during the 2018-2019 hunting season, citing challenges in managing a limited hunt.
After Monday’s meeting, potential changes to mule deer hunting regulations in south-central Montana will also go out for public comment.
Fish and Wildlife wants to adopt changes to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in hunting districts 502, 510, 520 and 575 in 2019.
Officials say their goal with the proposed changes is to manage for lower buck-to-doe ratios, since bucks are two to three times more likely to be infected with CWD. They’re also more likely to spread the disease in the population, according to John Vore, FWP’s game management bureau chief.
According to documents from FWP outlining the proposal:
Specific changes proposed are:
- HD 502 change the general mule deer season from buck-only to either-sex.
- HD 510 eliminate the unlimited 510-50 buck mule deer permit and establish an either-sex mule
- HD 520 change the general mule deer season from buck only to either-sex in that portion of
HD 520 lying east of Highway 212.
- HD 575 increase 575-00 antlerless mule deer B license from 250 to 500 and increase the
biennial range from 5-200 to 5-750. This proposal is outside the current biennial range and
requires commission action.
Vore stressed the importance of getting ahead of CWD.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to do this,” said Vore. “It’s unfortunate that the disease is now here in Montana, but because it is here, we want to be aggressive and preemptive in dealing with it.”
The proposed changes will be out for public comment until Jan. 18.
Reporting by Evelyn Schultz and John Riley for MTN News