Montana to appeal Yellowstone grizzly decision

Montana filed a notice of appeal Friday of the September decision by the federal district court in Missoula to re-instate endangered species protection to grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“Grizzly bear recovery and conservation is an amazing success story that’s taken decades of hard work and dedication. The science is clear that grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are recovered,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams.

Montana joins the states of Idaho and Wyoming, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in appealing the court’s decision.

“With grizzly bear recovery goals met in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the safeguards in place to ensure healthy populations will persist, it’s time to hand over management to the states,” said Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

In Montana, grizzly bears are expanding from beyond the core areas where they’ve met population recovery goals – the GYE and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. They are showing up in places they haven’t been for decades, like the prairie east of the Rocky Mountain Front, parts of western Montana and areas northeast of Yellowstone National Park.

The grizzly bears numbers in these recolonized areas are increasing, and while the appeal Montana is filing today will only address the GYE, it’s clear more needs to be done to look comprehensively at grizzly bear management across Montana.

“For long-term success, grizzly bear management in Montana must consider the needs of our communities and people along with those of the bear,” Williams said. “As this appeal proceeds, Montana will focus on our responsibilities for management by convening the diverse interests of our citizens to identify strategies that address emerging and future needs for bear recovery and conflict management.”

Historically, the approach to delisting has been to focus on just the NCDE and GYE. While that has been successful for grizzly bear recovery, it creates challenges for bear management. Grizzly bears are spilling out of the NCDE and GYE and showing up in communities surrounding these ecosystems where they haven’t been for decades and where people aren’t prepared for them.

Montana is home to two other recovery zones, the Selway Bitterroot and Cabinet-Yaak. Neither has met recovery goals. Between the four recovery zones, bears are expanding into landscapes that aren’t covered under an existing management plan. To address this, Montana needs a more comprehensive look.

“Montana has long been a leader in conservation and now we have a unique opportunity to forge a path forward for these iconic animals that incorporates the diverse values of our citizens as part of a solution,” Bullock said. “Ultimately a comprehensive and collaborative approach to bear management across the state is the best path toward a durable delisting rule and balancing the needs and goals of our state’s citizens.”