Story at a glance

  • Montana officials are petitioning to remove protections for grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Recovery Zone.
  • The state’s governor said populations in the region have surpassed recovery goals outlined by the state.
  • Hunting grizzly bears is banned in the continental U.S.

Officials in Montana are seeking to end federal protections for grizzly bears in the northwest part of the state, a move that would open the species up to hunting for the first time in three decades.  

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) on Monday announced the state is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to remove Endangered Species Act protections in the Northern Continental Divide Recovery Zone (NCDE), which covers roughly 9,000 square miles in northwest Montana and is home to more than 1,000 grizzly bears. 

Gianforte said populations in the region have surpassed recovery goals outlined by the state, and the expansion of grizzlies into the prairie areas east of the Rocky Mountain Front has led to a rise in conflicts with people and livestock. If the petition is successful, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks would take over management of the species. 

“Due to the work and sacrifice of many Montanans over decades, Montana has been successful in recovering grizzly bears in the NCDE,” Gianforte said in a statement


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“With the grizzly bear recovered, keeping the species listed under the Endangered Species Act will only continue to impact communities, farmers and ranchers, and recreationists around the state. It also limits Montana’s options when it comes to dealing with conflict bears,” Gianforte added. 

The petition also asks the USFWS to designate bears in the NCDE as a distinct population segment and expand the designation into eastern Montana. 

“This would allow for the delisting of grizzly bears across most of the northern half of the state,” according to the governor’s release. 

Wildlife advocates, however, spoke out against the move, arguing the removal of protections would result in overhunting of the species. Hunting grizzly bears is banned in the continental U.S.

“We are hopeful that federal officials will reject this appalling request, which threatens to turn Montana’s imperiled grizzly bears into trophy hunting targets,” Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an emailed statement. 

“It’s absurd to declare grizzlies ‘recovered’ as a pretext for allowing people to kill them with little oversight,” Zaccardi said. 

The USFWS has 90 days for their initial response to the petition. 

Grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, and hunting continued in northwest Montana until 1991.

An estimated 50,000 grizzly bears lived in the western U.S. in 1800, but only a few hundred survivors remained by the 1930s due to hunting.


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Published on Dec 07, 2021