?We’re working to delist grizzlies and wolves
I’m often asked about Montana FWP’s stance regarding gray wolves and grizzly bears. Our position is that the recoveries of wolves in the western recovery area and grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been successful. In 1993, there were 45 wolves in the recovery area, all in northwestern Montana. Now more than 750 wolves live in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. There are today more than 400 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and an estimated 300 or more in Glacier National Park, which makes up one-quarter of the species’s range within the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE).
These success stories are due in part to protection from the Endangered Species Act. But just as important has been cooperation among citizens, ranchers, and hunters, as well as among federal agencies, state agencies, and Indian tribes.
The recovery of grizzly bears and gray wolves shows what the nation can do, as a whole, to ensure the long-term survival of species that once had nearly disappeared. As part of this national effort, Montana and other western states provide the habitat necessary for the survival of wolves and grizzlies, such as the wild areas of the Rocky Mountain Front. Western state wildlife agencies also have the scientific expertise, as well as credibility with local citizens, necessary to maintain these wildlife populations.
What we don’t have, however, is funding for adequate population monitoring, conflict response, law enforcement, public education, and other essential aspects of grizzly bear and gray wolf management. Wolf and grizzly conservation is expensive, and it has the potential to overwhelm our state budgets.
That’s why we believe that all Americans who benefit from the restoration of gray wolves and grizzlies should expect to contribute to the cost of their management. Not only is that fair, but it’s also the only way to ensure the long-term local support vital to the sustainability of these two species.
We’re working hard to get grizzlies and gray wolves delisted. For NCDE grizzlies to be removed from federally threatened status, we need data showing the population is healthy and increasing. Because grizzlies are hard to count, we’ve begun a study using scent stations that snag the hair of inquisitive bears. By examining DNA in the captured hair follicles, scientists can distinguish individual bears and thus estimate the local bear population.
As for gray wolves, our state management plan has been lauded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, that agency says it can’t remove gray wolves from federal protection because of the plan put forth by Wyoming, which is linked to Montana and Idaho when it comes to wolf management.
Montana is doing all it can to delist wolves and bears. If we can get them off the list, that will be great news both for those who want to see more local control and those who support the long-term conservation of these great species.
M. Jeff Hagener is Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks