New Montana Laws Change Response to Grizzly Bear Management
The bear emergency is over, and it is a wonderful thing.
However, as they have recovered grizzlies have spread out of their sanctuaries and into areas where people live. Greater grizzly recovery cannot succeed until these people – and their livelihoods – are given equal consideration as bears.
In general, this is not what has been happening. This is the context in which these bills must be viewed.
NOTE: this article was originally published to APNews.com on May 17, 2021.
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Greg Gianforte signed two bills changing the way Montana responds to how grizzly bears are managed, saying the animal should lose federal Endangered Species Act protections and shifting responsibility for conflicts to the U.S. government.
The measures are two of several controversial wildlife bills recently pushed by Montana Republicans, the Independent Record reported Sunday.
Senate Bills 98 and 337 follow an assessment of grizzly populations that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published in late April, saying their population has increased but protections under the Endangered Species Act are still warranted.
SB 98 expands the circumstances in which a person can kill a grizzly to protect life or property. It also says that because grizzly numbers have recovered, the animal should be removed from the federal endangered species list.
Opponents take issue with a provision saying a person who kills a grizzly that is “threatening to kill a person or livestock” has “absolute defense” against being charged with a crime. They say it could conflict with federal law and give ranchers a false impression of when they can shoot bears in self-defense.
SB 337 changes the role of the state in relocating bears captured in conflicts. If the bear is captured outside of a federal recovery zone, the law prohibits Montana from relocating the animal, meaning federal authorities would be responsible for moving or euthanizing it.
Opponents say the bill also will result in more grizzlies being killed. Less cooperation between state and federal authorities means that captured bears are more likely to be euthanized, they say.
The Republican governor signed SB 98 on Wednesday and SB 337 last month.
How grizzlies are managed has long been an issue in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Previous federal efforts to remove the animal from the endangered species list have been overturned in U.S. court.