It’s Time to Rename the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), a conglomeration of federal, state and tribal agencies responsible for promoting grizzly bear recovery, recently changed its mission to include delisting of grizzly bears. Its name should also be changed to reflect this important distinction.

Its job is to support and promote the best available scientific information leading towards recovery. Instead, the IGBC has devolved into a self-congratulatory panel with a “damn the torpedoes” approach to removing federal Endangered Species Act protections. The new mission is imminent delisting of the isolated populations in the greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide areas, more than 90% of the grizzlies in the 48 states.

The incoming from the courts, native organizations, independent scientists and the public has been unrelenting. Yet the rush to delist continues to gather speed, pushed by political agendas favoring resource extraction. Therefore, the Interagency Grizzly Delisting Committee (IGDC) would be a more fitting title.

The IGDC delisting dance is highly choreographed, including a supporting role by Gov. Steve Bullock and his hand-picked grizzly bear advisory council. The dance has an internal timeline, decided at closed door “executive sessions.” Recently, in Missoula, Governor Bullock exhorted his council to speed up their recommendations before their chartered August 2020 deadline. As further evidence of delisting bias, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams is now the chair of the IGDC. She has said publicly, “I am for delisting, tomorrow.”

FWPs uses the power of repetition, trotting out the same population growth figure year after year after year, when wildlife populations do not obey such conformity. Moreover, it doesn’t square with back-to-back years of record high grizzly bear mortality.

The federal plan for grizzly recovery is now 27 years old. Since then, there have been wholesale changes to the Northern Rockies landscape. In 1993, there was little discussion of climate change effects. The urgent need for habitat connectivity between isolated recovery areas was in its infancy. Since then, human population growth west of the divide has boomed, with high-speed highways, subdivisions, ranchettes and cabins popping up like mushrooms throughout formerly open space. Forest Service mismanagement allows more high-speed recreationists in remote grizzly bear habitats along with more road-building and logging. All of the above have caused changes in the patterns, location and frequency of human-bear conflicts.

There are bright spots, such as ranchers in the Blackfoot Valley and elsewhere who have pioneered successful co-existence strategies. There are increased food storage efforts and construction of crossing structures for wildlife. But these remain silver linings. The increasing loss of secure habitat within core recovery and connectivity areas could easily reverse progress on a regional scale.

No matter, the IGDC and its component agencies plan to declare victory and go home in 2020, leaving the job undone.

Grizzly bear delisting based on weak, politically motivated agreements is unlawful, unscientific, untimely and unnecessary.

For an assessment from independent experts, readers are encouraged to view “Status of the Grizzly Bear in the Northern Rockies: Has it Really Recovered?” airing on Missoula Community Access Television, Channel 189, on Jan. 4 at 10 p.m. and Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. It will be available on MCAT’s Video on Demand at www.mcat.org after airing. A written version is available at: www.montanaforestplan.org.

Mike Bader is an independent consultant to the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force in Missoula, Montana. He helped formulate the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and testified before the U.S. Congress in support of it. He has been writing about land and wildlife management issues in the Western states since the 1980s.