KALISPELL, MT — The Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council is close to wrapping up a year-long effort of collaboration with a public meeting on July 21-22 to work on its final draft report.
The citizen advisory council is scheduled to gather in Helena from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 21 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 22. The council continues to exercise caution with the COVID pandemic and will use its webpage to engage the public during the meeting. The public is invited to watch the meeting online where it will be streamed live at fwp.mt.gov/gbac. The public will have an opportunity to provide input and comment during the meeting, and instructions for participating will be posted online.
After 12 public meetings dating back to fall 2019, the advisory council has worked together to draft discrete, actionable recommendations that provide clear and meaningful guidance to the Governor’s Office, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the Fish and Wildlife Commission, and other entities with responsibility for grizzly bear management and conservation in Montana. Following the final steps of this effort, the council will deliver its final report to the Governor by the end of August.
Public involvement has been the central focus of the council’s existence. Prior to the pandemic, council meetings were open to in-person public attendance and held in various locations around the state. The pandemic meant a shift to online meetings starting in March, and all of the meetings have been live-streamed and have made sure to allow time for and seek public input. The meetings are also recorded for the public to view and still provide input afterwards as well. The council’s webpage includes a record of the council’s work to date, including past agendas, presentations, interim working documents, and a link to provide comments. To date, more than 16,000 public comments have been received on the council’s work, and the input from July 2019-May is posted online at fwp.mt.gov/gbac.
The advisory council is currently working on its final report and an updated preliminary draft will be posted online at fwp.mt.gov/gbac on July 17. The council anticipates having a near-final draft available online by July 24 that reflects its deliberations during the July 21-22 meeting. The public is invited to provide comments on the two documents through the close of business Aug. 4. The council will monitor comments as they come in and convene online Aug. 5 to discuss them and make any needed changes to its final recommendations. Implementation of council recommendations that call for additional funding, rulemaking or other policy implementation and changes would undergo a future public process that includes further opportunity for comment.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock appointed the 18 Montana citizens from across the state with a diversity of views and commitment to working together on the future of grizzly bears in Montana. The council is intentionally representative of the different parts of the state where grizzlies are currently or may soon be found.
Since being appointed, the council has reviewed the history of grizzly bear recovery and conservation in Montana, interagency management efforts, legal considerations, and grizzly bear distribution. Presentations have focused on the current state of grizzly bear populations across the state and the core questions and considerations that wildlife managers and others face as these populations continue to expand in Montana, including into some areas that they have not occupied for decades. Council members have heard from FWP bear managers, as well as tribal and federal managers, who respond to conflicts and promote public safety and preventative measures. Non-profit organizations, individuals and landowners have also shared their experiences from across the state. Shawn Johnson and Heather Stokes from the University of Montana’s Center for Natural Resources & Environmental Policy program have facilitated the process and worked with council members and a technical/science support team to organize meetings.
Grizzly bears are native, iconic carnivores that have high value to people and cultures across the state and around the world and play important roles in Montana ecosystems and economies. At the same time, they can and do injure or kill people and livestock, and cause property damage, which may disproportionately affect individuals living and working in bear country. Their presence is both valued and feared. Montana remains committed to maintaining the long-term viability of grizzly bears, consistent with the Endangered Species Act and FWP’s long history of wildlife conservation. Balancing conflicting values and addressing diverse needs is critical, especially in newly recolonized areas. Federal protected status currently governs Montana’s ability to address distribution and abundance. These challenges remain regardless of federal protections.
For more information on the council, visit fwp.mt.gov/gbac.