HELENA – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is proposing a wide array of grizzly bear relocation sites to the Fish and Wildlife Commission following new statutory requirements set by the 2021 Montana Legislature.
The proposed relocation sites provide options for relocating grizzly bears both inside and outside of three of Montana’s federally designated recovery zones – the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, said FWP wildlife division administrator Ken McDonald.
“The idea is to have the commission and the public review several release sites so our staff have options once it’s been decided to trap a bear, whether it’s a conflict situation or not,” McDonald said. “The last thing we want is to have a grizzly bear in a trap approved for relocation but no approved release site within a reasonable distance.”
Since grizzly bears are listed at threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that agency must approve all relocations. The proposed relocation sites are all within current occupied grizzly bear range, even if many are outside of recovery zones.
“We’re not proposing to use these sites to expand bear populations, but simply to give our staff options for relocation within current occupied habitat,” McDonald said.
All proposed release sites were developed collaboratively with other land management agencies, like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Senate Bill 337 requires FWP to have all grizzly bear release sites approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The commission will review the sites proposed by the department and then make a final decision on which will go out for public comment. A final decision on the release sites is expected in December.
SB 337 also prohibits the department from relocating conflict grizzly bears that are located outside for recovery zones.
Relocating grizzly bears can occur for a variety of reasons. In some areas, like the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, bears are relocated from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem to help supplement the population. Bears can be relocated in response to conflict. They can also be relocated pre-emptively if the potential for conflict is high.
To see the proposed relocations sites, look on the Fish and Wildlife Commission agenda page for Oct. 28. The commission meeting will begin 8:30 a.m. and will be held on Zoom and in person in room 303 at the state Capitol in Helena.
At the commission meeting, public comment via Zoom will be managed with the system utilized by the Legislature. If you are interested in commenting, you must register online via the Fish, Wildlife & Parks website by noon, Oct. 27. The public will also be able to comment in person at the meeting or at any FWP regional office. To sign up to comment by noon on Oct. 27, go to: https://myfwp.mt.gov/fwpPub/mtg/fishandwildlifecommissionmeeting08202021.