The issue of de-listing grizzly bears in Montana has periodically been in the news over the last couple of decades. Every time the population goals were reached non-government organizations (NGOs) sued and the bar was raised. Apparently, de-listing may finally be getting close to becoming a reality.
If you are like me, you have been following this convoluted circus with a detached relief that it doesn’t concern us in Eastern Montana. Wrong! Allen Schallenberger’s article in the March 20, 2014 issue of Western Ag Reporter was a wake-up call. Allen discussed the Southwest Montana Grizzly Bear Plan recently finalized by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). The plan outlines the areas FWP will recommend to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to de-list the grizzly bear. It does not include Eastern Montana.
I wrote to FWP Director Jeff Hagener for clarification. He responded that since grizzly bears are an endangered species, the authority and decision to de-list the bears lies solely with USFWS. He further noted, “designation of distinct population segments and boundaries of DPS are ultimately the decision and authority of the USFWS, not FWP, as they are charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act.”
Apparently, the distinct population segment (DPS) boundary only encloses the area where the grizzly population is considered recovered. Since there are currently no grizzlies in Eastern Montana, we are not being considered for de-listing. Does this mean there are plans to “recover” them in Eastern Montana? Grizzly bears have been extending their range eastward recently and the trend will probably continue. In addition, what is to stop FWP from taking problem bears from the mountains and dumping them on the CMR NWR along the Missouri River?
It can probably safely be said the majority of eastern Montana residents do not want grizzly bears in their back yards. Other states (e.g. WY, NV, ID) are starting to stand up to the USFWS and taking back management of their resident wildlife. What is wrong with Montana? It is time our state wildlife agency (FWP) got some collective backbone and stood up for its citizens against the USFWS and the NGOs and insist grizzlies be de-listed in all of Montana.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is broken! A major problem is that Washington bureaucrats and NGO’s far removed from the on-the-ground issues are making stupid decisions and imposing actions that are harmful and, in many cases, disastrous to both the citizens and the resident wildlife. The examples are legion that USFWS is not capable of managing resident wildlife.
The solution is simple. Go back to the successful program that was in place prior to enactment of the ESA. It is time the state governments in the Western States took a stand and said, “enough is enough” and took back the management of resident wildlife species from the Washington bureaucrats! Each state would be responsible for the wildlife species within their boundaries and the feds role would be to assist with information and resources.
This would not mean the demise of the grizzly. It would mean management decisions would be made on a local level. In practice, if a bear was accidentally killed or killed protecting life and/or property you would not have to deal with the wrath of the ESA. Instead, state statues would determine any penalties. In other words, the people of Montana would have a major say in the management of this dangerous predator.
In closing, the grizzly bear population in Montana has increased and is thriving to the point it is no longer under a threat of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it no longer meets the requirements to be listed under the ESA and should be de-listed in all of Montana.
The citizens and the wildlife populations of Montana would benefit from this de-listing. The only ones that would suffer would be the NGOs that would lose their access to their cash cow, the Equal Access to Justice Act payments.
Ron Stoneberg lives in southwest Valley County.