The situation outlined in a recent article (Nov. 3) regarding a grizzly bear near Stevensville highlights an opportunity for Montanans to be good neighbors to the big bruins.
This bear shows the importance of grizzly movement, as well as the decisions and documents that guide this movement. This includes conservation strategies to direct future grizzly management in ecosystems that are considered recovered.
Currently, the conservation strategy for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) is in draft form. A good conservation strategy would ensure bear movements are allowed, even encouraged, outside recovery zones. It would also provide standards and guidelines to maintain connections between populations and ensure humans successfully coexist with these important mammals.
With clear and concise management direction, the “golf course griz” could be a pioneer of expansion and connectivity who helps reoccupy core habitat as in the Salmon-Selway.
This is something I do in my work with Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative. We envision connecting and protecting habitat so that people and wildlife thrive, and we work with many partners to accomplish this vision. This includes protecting and connecting grizzly bears in the NCDE to those in Yellowstone, Selkirks, Bitterroot, as well as the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem where I live. This work is critical to achieving the Y2Y vision.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks must coordinate with other agencies to proactively protect and manage grizzly habitat throughout the NCDE and in the land linking this area to other recovery zones. It is important the agency limit trash and other attractants, along with any other potential sources of bear conflicts with humans both within and between recovery zones that could hinder connectivity.
Landowner and community outreach, private land protection, protection of public land core habitat, and coordination with land management agencies to manage recreation in core grizzly bear habitat and important linkage areas are other key components of success.
Grizzly bears are incredibly important to every ecosystem in which they persist. Those that live in the NCDE are integral to the health of grizzlies in the Lower 48. What we do to connect bear populations here will help keep populations elsewhere in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming healthy. It is critical to have a plan and strategy that not only helps grizzlies thrive as they rebound and connect, but also helps humans live alongside them as they move throughout the region — and beyond.