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State asks federal government to remove grizzly bears in northwest Montana from the endangered species list

Grizzly bear.
Flickr user Nathan Rupert (CC-BY-NC-ND-2)
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Montana is asking the federal government to take grizzly bears in the northwest part of the state off of the endangered species list.

The state is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, an area in and around Glacier National Park that extends southward almost to Missoula.

The ecosystem is home to one of the largest grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states: An estimated 1,100 grizzly bears live there.

Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement announcing the petition Monday that Montana has helped recover grizzly bear populations in the region, and it's “time for the state to take over management.”

“With the grizzly bear recovered, keeping the species listed under the Endangered Species Act will only continue to impact communities, farmers and ranchers, and recreationists around the state," he said. "It also limits Montana’s options when it comes to dealing with conflict bears."

Environmental groups opposing the move say the state’s request will face legal hurdles. Though the petition argues grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem are part of a "distinct population," Alliance for the Wild Rockies executive director Mike Garrity said in a statement that "The courts have already ruled that there is only one population of grizzly bears."

John Horning, executive director of the nonprofit WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement the state's petition is "scientifically and legally illegitimate and ethically unfounded."

The group "believes this is a time that we should be elevating federal safeguards for imperiled iconic wildlife like grizzlies, not weakening them."

The state’s petition seeks to eventually extend the delisting across most of the Northern half of the state.

The grizzly bear has been listed as an endangered species since 1975. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond to the state's request.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.