Montana hunters may still have an opportunity for limited hunting of grizzly bears under the latest management proposal released by the state.

But if wildlife managers decide to use "harvesting" as a tool it would likely take as long as five years before that actually happens.

That's one of the details contained in the latest attempt by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to come up with a plan to manage the big bears if they are ever taken out from under federal protection on the Endangered Species List.

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Plans if grizzlies lose federal protection in Montana

Acting in response to direction from the Legislature this spring, FWP is working on draft rules that could be used to manage grizzly populations, if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ever "delists" the bears. Some leaders, including Governor Greg Gianforte, have been pressing for clearer, updated rules for grizzly management. The argument is that bear populations estimated at as many as 1,000 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and 1100 bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, are sufficient to consider the species as "recovered."

However, conservation groups have continued to challenge the state's ability to maintain viable populations.

Hunting and other measures

Under the proposed changes to the Administrative Rules of Montana, measures would be taken to control how to deal with grizzlies that are causing "non-livestock" depredations while not endangering people. Other details include grizzly research, habitat management, and coordination with other agencies.

It also addresses the sport hunting of grizzlies, which has been a major point of contention over the past decade. With the ARM change bears could be hunted "when deemed appropriate." It does call sport hunting the "most desirable method" for balancing the number of bears and the available habitat. However, FWP would manage the bears for five years after delisting before grizzly hunting would even be proposed.

Final action later this summer

Public comments were already accepted earlier this year. But there will be a public hearing before the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its next meeting on August 17th in Helena.

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