The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, or Recovery Zone, is situated in northwestern Montana. It includes Glacier National Park, parts of the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations, portions of five national forests (Flathead, Helena, Kootenai, Lolo, and Helena-Lewis and Clark), Bureau of Land Management lands, and a significant amount of state and private lands. Also within this region are five federally designated wilderness areas (Bob Marshall, Mission Mountains, Great Bear, Rattlesnake, and Scapegoat), one Tribal wilderness area designated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and one federally designated Wilderness Study Area. This area is contiguous to Canadian grizzly bear populations, and interchange of bears has been documented.
The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem stretches more than 8,900 square miles and is mostly comprised of public land (85 percent). Bear distribution has greatly expanded beyond the initial designated recovery zone into habitats with increased human presence. These bears are more likely to run into conflicts such as interactions with livestock and humans.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Glacier National Park, the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, and the Blackfeet Nation, monitor the NCDE grizzly bear population through maintaining a radio-marked sample of individuals and monitoring mortalities within the DMA. The most recent population estimate was 1,029 bears for 2018.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks maintains a long-term population monitoring program for the ecosystem. The purpose of this long-term program is to monitor the vital population parameters of grizzly bears by assessing the survival and reproductive rates, and trend. This is accomplished by radio-monitoring female grizzly bears.
In 2013, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published a draft conservation strategy for the Northern Continental Divide grizzly bear population for public review and input. The conservation strategy would serve as a post-delisting management plan for the ecosystem’s grizzly bears and their habitat. In the summer of 2018, the NCDE Subcommittee released an updated conservation strategy. The IGBC has endorsed the conservation strategy, which summarizes the commitments and coordinated efforts made by the state, tribal, and federal agencies to manage and monitor the grizzly bear population and its habitat in the NCDE upon delisting.
As of 2019, the US Fish & Wildlife Service paused the process of evaluating whether delisting the NCDE population was warranted while reviewing a court ruling related to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population delisting. If the evaluation for the delisting process were to resume in the NCDE, it would involve a formal evaluation of the recovery criteria and a threats analysis. The process would culminate in a proposed rule, followed by public comment, and then a final rule if determined appropriate.
The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Subcommittee meets biannually to coordinate grizzly bear recovery efforts.