U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has announced changes to his department’s management of grizzly bears after requests for action by Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines. Bernhardt responded to both Gianforte and Daines with letters on the Interior Department’s management changes.
Bernhardt traveled to Choteau, MT in October 2019 with Congressman Gianforte to meet with area ranchers and members of the community to hear their concerns about living with grizzly bears. In his letter to Gianforte, Bernhardt reflected on the meeting.
“During this meeting I heard about bears breaking into grain silos, denning in crops, and passing through school grounds. The people I met were unsettled by these interactions and felt their concerns were not being heard by the Department of the Interior and the State of Montana,” Secretary Bernhardt wrote.
Conceding the challenge in addressing problems bears in the existing administrative structure, Secretary Bernhardt said, “This [administrative] complexity has led to risk-averse and delayed actions when human-bear conflicts arise. Flawed decision-making processes have resulted in growing discontent among the people that live with these bears.”
During a Senate Appropriations hearing to respond to new rulemakings concerning the Endangered Species Act, Senator Daines asked Secretary Bernhardt for better management surrounding grizzly bears and human conflict in Montana.
Bernhardt wrote to Senator Daines, “During my hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, we discussed our shared concerns over grizzly bear management in the State of Montana,” Bernhardt wrote. “You have been a vocal leader on this issue, and I would like to provide an update on the actions the Department is taking to improve the management of grizzly bears.”
The Department of Interior has committed to:
- Enter into a contract with USDA Wildlife Services to better manage problem bears.
- Provide Wildlife Services with funding to hire additional bear conflict specialists in Montana
- Update and reissue guidance on grizzly bear hazing guidelines and actions to avoid bear contact
- Leverage existing Federal programs, such as grants provided under the Pittman-Robertson Act, to restore, conserve and manage animals and their habitat.
Gianforte welcomed Bernhardt’s announcement, saying, “I appreciate Secretary Bernhardt coming to Choteau and listening to folks who too often encounter grizzly bears. It’s time for more effective management of problem bears, and I’m glad the Trump administration is putting more tools in our toolbox.”
“Until we can retain full state management of the grizzly bear, we need common sense, collaborative methods of managing to reduce human conflict,” Daines said. “I am thankful to Secretary Bernhardt for listening to the concerns of Montanans and redirecting management.”