Op Ed: It’s time for State Management of Grizzly Bears

by Brett McRae

By: Montana State Senators Jason Ellsworth and Butch Gillespie

The recent spate of headlines about grizzly bear attacks and human-bear conflicts highlights the need for the federal government to return management of grizzlies to the State of Montana.

Grizzly bears are still listed under the federal Endangered Species Act despite their populations having been recovered, robust, and growing in both the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) for years now.

When grizzlies were listed on the Endangered Species Act, there was good reason for it, but the reality on the ground is far different now. Thousands of bears currently roam each of the GYE and NCDE. Far from being endangered, populations are not only sustainable, but growing. Grizzlies are expanding their range, migrating into other ecosystems, mountain ranges, and even the plains.

Wildlife management practices have also drastically improved and evolved since the bears were added to the Endangered Species List. Montana is recognized as one of the best wildlife managers in the world. The state effectively manages numerous game species, non-game species, and, most notably, other large predator species. Black bears and mountain lions have fared well under state management for decades. Extreme environmentalists often point to wolves when they claim the state can’t be trusted with managing grizzlies, but the facts don’t align with their assertions. Despite environmentalists taking issue with wolf management practices, wolf populations continue to be robust and sustainable in Montana.

The state is a reliable and successful steward of Montana’s wildlife, including large predators. There is no valid, data-based reason for grizzly bears’ continued exclusion from state management. In fact, as populations continue to grow and conflicts with humans and livestock become more common, the longer the feds retain control over the bears, the more frustrated the public will become.

With all this in mind, the state Legislature took a big step to lay the groundwork for state grizzly bear management. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 295, which revises Montana law to accommodate grizzlies being delisted from the Endangered Species Act. SB 295 establishes reasonable parameters for lethal management of bears when necessary, requires safeguards to keep populations at sustainable levels, and directs state wildlife managers to update their policies to ensure that once grizzlies come off the Endangered Species List, they’ll never need to go back on it.

Grizzly bear recovery in Montana is a conservation success story. Grizzly populations are healthy, sustainable, and growing. It’s past time for the federal government to take the win, delist the bears, and return management to the State of Montana.


Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is the President of the Montana Senate. Sen. Bruce “Butch” Gillespie, R-Ethridge, is the sponsor of SB 295

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