HELENA — The Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council (GBAC) is close to wrapping up their final recommendations that aim to help set a long-term vision for bear management and conservation in Montana.
The 18 person citizen advisory council first met in October of 2019, and is composed of biologists, ranchers, hunters, conservationists, educators, business owners and more.
There will be a public meeting July 21 and July 22 while they work on their final draft report that is expected to be finalized and presented in August.
“We’re not done yet, there’s still some fine tuning that needs to be done, but overall I think we’re really getting there and I think we’re going to be able to handover a really useful document,” said Trina Jo Bradley, GBAC member and Vallier area rancher.
A draft of the final recommendations by the council addresses three critical areas: Education and Outreach, Conflict Prevention and Grizzly Bear Distribution, Relocation, and Connectivity.
Before the July meeting, GBAC had not been able to reach a consensus on establishing grizzly hunting. A topic that is expected to be heavily discussed by the advisory council in the next 48 hours.
“We have such a diverse group of people we knew the first day we weren’t going to come to a consensus on hunting,” said Bradley. “What FWP Director Martha Williams asked us to do is we don’t actually have to recommend hunting as a tool, she just wants us to provide recommendations for a hunting season if there ever was one.”
Joe Perry, founding member of Montana Sportsmen Alliance (MSA), told MTN that if a hunting season was developed, it would need to be done the right way.
“We have members on both sides of this issue, and MSA has not officially taken a stance,” said Perry. “If the State is able to come up with a season it has to be very tightly controlled, very highly monitored and precise in its location. It has to be done very carefully, the eyes of the world are upon us and we would not want to mess up a hunting season that is so high profile.”
Perry praised the working document and all of the efforts put in by GBAC.
“I think it's a very good document,” said Perry. “There was a lot of very valuable information in there and some very good advice.”
While hunting was a divisive issue for the council, Bradley said there were many topics, like increasing education and outreach about grizzly bears, that were easy for GBAC.
“It is clear to everyone in the world, or at least Montana, that education, outreach and prevention is absolutely necessary in order for use to be able to live with bears and bears to be able to live with us,” said Bradley.
The current document also calls for the Governor’s Office and Legislature to provide funding for bear conflict prevention grants through the Montana Livestock Loss Board.
That funding would then be available for landowners to pay for conflict reduction tools and practices, such as fencing, carcass pickup and disposal, guard dogs, and range riding.
Executive Vice President Montana Stockgrowers Association Jay Bodner said he thought the initial draft did well at addressing issues faced by Montana ranchers.
“What we’ve seen in the agricultural, landowner, and livestock or grain is really that these bears are moving much faster than anybody anticipated,” said Bodner.
Bodner said it’s important for local, state, federal and tribal agencies to help landowners be proactive to preventing grizzly bear conflicts, rather than reactive.
“From our perspective, we want to reduce as much conflict as possible,” said Bodner. “We don’t like losing livestock to bears and we can reduce any of these types of conflicts whenever it’s possible.”
Another big topic that will be covered at this week’s GBAC meeting, is where grizzly bears belong and where does Montana want those bears.
“That is another hard conversation that we’re going to have to have,” said Bradley.
The GBAC meeting can be viewed online here, and MTN will continue to provide updates on the advisory council’s recommendations.
People are able to make public comment on Tuesday around 3:30 p.m. and Wednesday around 1:00 p.m.