A grizzly bear in the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage. Photo courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

An interagency team of biologists, researchers and managers from State, Tribal and Federal agencies completed a Conservation Strategy for grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in northwest Montana.

The Conservation Strategy is a comprehensive document that seeks to maintain a recovered, genetically diverse grizzly bear population into the future. The NCDE Subcommittee, as part of the IGBC, crafted the document as a way for the respective authorities to maintain and enhance the recovered status of the grizzly bear in the NCDE by implementing regulatory mechanisms, interagency cooperation, population and habitat management and monitoring, and other provisions of the Conservation Strategy.

The Conservation Strategy provides a cohesive umbrella for all signatories to operate under and reference, but each signatory would have their own legal, and public, process and authority to implement aspects of the Conservation Strategy. This Conservation Strategy would remain in effect beyond recovery, delisting, and the minimum five-year post-delisting monitoring period required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The overarching goal of the Conservation Strategy is to maintain a healthy, recovered grizzly bear population throughout an area known as the Demographic Monitoring Area (DMA; see maps included in the Conservation Strategy). This area features the Primary Conservation Area (PCA), which includes Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. The PCA represents the core habitat for grizzly bears in the NCDE and is expected to support the highest densities of bears. It will be managed as a source area where the objectives are continual occupancy by grizzly bears and maintenance of habitat conditions that are compatible with long-term population stability. It is mostly comprised of public land (85 percent) and is the area where the most conservative habitat protections apply.

The Conservation Strategy also identifies the goal of maintaining demographic and genetic connections with Canadian populations and providing the opportunity for demographic and/or genetic connectivity with other ecosystems (Cabinet-Yaak, Bitterroot, Greater Yellowstone).

“The key to successful management of grizzly bears is to balance multiple land uses, public safety, and careful consideration of grizzly bear needs across northwest Montana, including Glacier National Park, parts of the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian Reservations, parts of five national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, and state and private lands,” said Jeff Mow, superintendent of Glacier National Park and the chair of the NCDE Subcommittee.

One of the listed objectives in the Conservation Strategy is to “manage mortalities from all sources to support a 90 percent or greater estimated probability that the grizzly bear population within the DMA remains above 800 bears. Importantly, given the commitment to incorporate all forms of uncertainty into the population modeling, this objective necessitates maintaining an actual population size that is likely closer to 1,000 bears, and an even higher population size should uncertainty increase.

This Conservation Strategy is the culmination of many years of work by an interagency team that have assembled the best information available on maintaining a recovered grizzly bear population within the NCDE. It is also the culmination of a revision process that has included multiple agency reviews, independent peer reviews and opportunities for public input.

Development of the Conservation Strategy began in 2009. In 2013, although not required to do so, the agencies agreed to release a draft of the Conservation Strategy and the USFWS opened a 60-day public comment period via a notice of availability published in the Federal Register. Over 2,400 comments and three peer reviews were received. In 2017, the NCDE Subcommittee re-assembled its team to respond to public comments and to update and revise the draft document in response to comments and to new information, as appropriate. The latest Conservation Strategy includes an appendix with roughly 60 pages responding to public comment.

The NCDE Conservation Strategy is posted on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website, https://igbconline.org/n-continental-divide-subcommitte.

The IGBC is convening in Polson on Tuesday, June 19, for its bi-annual meeting. The meeting is at KwaTaqNuk Resort starting at 8 a.m. The agenda is posted online.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the NCDE?

The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) is one of six recovery zones for grizzly bears in the lower-48 States. It situated in northwest Montana, and includes Glacier National Park, parts of the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian Reservations, parts of 5 national forests (Flathead, Helena, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark and Lolo), Bureau of Land Management lands, and a significant amount of state and private lands. Also within this region are 4 wilderness areas (Bob Marshall, Mission Mountains, Great Bear and Scapegoat), one wilderness study area (Deep Creek north), and one scenic area (Ten Lakes).

How many grizzly bears are in the NCDE?

Based on multi-agency population monitoring, the NCDE is believed to have the largest population of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, with more than 1,000. For more information about grizzly bear population monitoring, visit http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/grizzlyBear/monitoring.html.

What is the NCDE Subcommittee?

The NCDE subcommittee is part of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and features members from State, Tribal and Federal agencies including Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, USDA APHIS-Wildlife Services, US Geological Survey, US Bureau of Land Management, Blackfeet Tribe, and Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The subcommittee meets biannually to coordinate grizzly bear recovery efforts throughout the ecosystem.

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