Comments sought on Northwest Montana grizzly criteria

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In this Sept. 25, 2013, file photo, a grizzly bear cub forages for food a few miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner. (Alan Rogers/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP, File)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking input from scientists and the general public on draft criteria for the eventual recovery of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear.

The draft criteria are a supplement to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, which has guided federal management of these animals since 1982. As the Daily Inter Lake reported last month, this effort could soon bring Northwest Montana bears to a crucial milestone: removal from the Endangered Species Act’s threatened species list and transfer to state management.

“The proposed objective and measurable habitat-based recovery criteria, once finalized, will help inform our recovery efforts as well as any future evaluations regarding the status of these bears under the ESA,” explained spokeswoman Roya Mogadam in an email to the Daily Inter Lake.

The draft criteria aim to keep the bears’ population at or above 2011 levels by setting guidelines for their habitat.

These include: limits on road density in bear management units; keeping the number and density of federal lands’ overnight recreation sites within 2011 levels; and keeping livestock and sheep allotments within 2011 levels.

In a press release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explained that “habitat conditions in 2011 are believed to be representative of conditions that supported and contributed to the healthy population growth observed from 2004 to 2011.”

The public can view the draft criteria on regulations.gov at docket number FWS-R6-ES-2017-0057. Comments will be accepted until Jan. 26, 2018, and may be submitted through that website, or by mail to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–RX–ES–2017–0057

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC

5275 Leesburg Pike

Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a workshop to seek input from scientists, the public and interested organizations on Jan. 3, 2018, in Missoula. Details are available at https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/grizzlyBear.php.

More information about this species is available on the service’s website at: https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/grizzlyBear.php.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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