Montana officials are seeking to end federal protections for grizzly bears in the northwestern state, a move that would open the species to hunting for the first time in three decades.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte (right) announced Monday the state is asking the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to remove endangered species law protections in the Northern Continental Division (NCDE) Recovery Zone, which covers approximately 9,000 square miles in Northwestern Montana and home to over 1,000 grizzly bears.
Gianforte said populations in the area have exceeded state-defined recovery goals and the expansion of grizzly bears in the prairie areas east of the Rocky Mountain Front has resulted in increased conflict with people and the cattle. If the petition is successful, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks would take over the management of the species.
“Due to the work and sacrifice of many Montanais over the decades, Montana has successfully recovered grizzly bears in the NCDE,” said Gianforte. in a report.
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“With the grizzly bear’s recovery, maintaining species listed under the Endangered Species Act will continue to impact communities, farmers and ranchers only on recreationists in the state. It also limits Montana’s options when it comes to dealing with bears in conflict, ”Gianforte added.
The petition also calls on the USFWS to designate bears in the NCDE as a separate population segment and extend the designation to eastern Montana.
“This would allow grizzly bears to be delisted in much of the northern half of the state,” the governor’s statement said.
Wildlife advocates, however, have spoken out against the move, arguing that removing the protections would lead to overhunting of the species. Grizzly bear hunting is prohibited in the continental United States
“We hope federal officials reject this appalling demand, which threatens to turn endangered Montana grizzly bears into trophy hunting targets,” Andrea Zaccardi, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an emailed statement. .
“It is absurd to declare grizzly bears ‘salvaged’ as a pretext to allow people to kill them with little supervision,” Zaccardi said.
The USFWS has 90 days for its initial response to the petition.
Grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975 and hunting continued in northwestern Montana until 1991.
An estimated 50,000 grizzly bears lived in the western United States in 1800, but only a few hundred survived in the 1930s due to hunting.
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