Wednesday, April 24, 2024

FWP reopens public comment periods for grizzly, wolf management plans

by BLAIR MILLER Daily Montanan
| February 14, 2024 9:10 AM

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Tuesday it was reopening public comment periods into early March on the state’s new grizzly and wolf management plans, both of which have drawn scrutiny from animal protection groups and conservationists.

FWP said reopening the comment window through March 9 will ensure it is adhering to Montana statute when it comes to giving county commissioners the chance to comment on plans involving managing large carnivores like grizzlies and wolves. The department said it would also provide more time for tribes and state and federal agencies to provide their comments.

“We want to ensure that everyone who has a stake in how these two species are managed can have a chance to comment on our draft plans before they are final,” FWP Director Dustin Temple said in a statement.

Public comment periods for both the Grizzly Bear Management Plan and Montana Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, whose draft versions were released over the past two years, took place during 2023.

In addition to needing to query county commissioners for comment under state law, management of both species has been in the spotlight in recent months.

A year ago last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a 12-month review of whether to remove Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, kicking off law- and rulemaking processes to have a structure in place should the state take over management of the grizzlies.

The results of that study, and a decision on grizzlies’ threatened status in the ecosystems, are anticipated to be released in coming weeks. Montana’s draft management plan focuses on managing bears as a listed, threatened species, but the government has been preparing for what the state will do if it does gain a management role for grizzlies.

The USFWS is also considering options to try to secure an established population in the Bitterroot, with a decision expected in late 2026, and a public comment period that runs through March 18.

FWP released its draft wolf management plan in October and held a public comment period and listening sessions into December, while the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted new administrative rules for grizzly and wolf management as well.

The draft wolf plan has drawn scrutiny from Montanans and conservation groups because it seeks to maintain a baseline population of 450 wolves to ensure there are 15 breeding pairs, though Montana currently has an estimated 1,000+ wolves.

Some of those same groups, incensed with the hunting and trapping of wolves in Montana, successfully petitioned the USFWS to review whether Western wolves should have ESA protections restored, but the agency declined to do so. The groups last week told the government they intend to sue over that decision.

Meanwhile, Montana’s wolf trapping season is set to come to an end on Thursday because the only regions where quotas for the season have not been met are under a court order to only allow trapping from Jan. 1 through Feb. 15 to reduce the threat that grizzly bears are not incidentally trapped.

As of Tuesday, there were 260 wolves killed so far this year during the hunting and trapping seasons out of a quota of 313, which was reduced from 450 last year.

A study from FWP and the University of Montana released last month found Montanans have increasing tolerance of wolves compared to when the same survey was done in 2012 and 2017.

To comment on the wolf and grizzly plans, click on the respective links. FWP said anyone that has already submitted comments does not need to submit again.

Blair Miller is a Helena-based reporter. The Daily Montanan is a nonprofit newsroom. To read the article as originally published, click here.