Montana Seeks Lifting of Protections for Grizzly Bears Amid Increase in Attacks, Maulings

Montana asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift threatened species protections for grizzly bears amid an increase in attacks and maulings, officials said Monday.

The state asked to lift the protections in the northern part of the state, such as Glacier National Park and the areas surrounding it, officials said. This would allow for the public to hunt grizzlies for the first time in 30 years in Montana if the request was granted, according to The Associated Press.

The bear populations have increased, allowing for more interaction between the bears and people and livestock. Northwest Montana has over 1,000 bears in Glacier National Park and surrounding areas, known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. It is the largest cluster of grizzlies in the Lower 48 states.

There was a mauling on Apr. 15 in West Yellowstone, Montana, Field and Stream reported. Carl Mock, 40, of West Yellowstone, Montana, was attacked by a grizzly bear while hiking. On July 6, Leah Davis Lokan was dragged from her tent and killed by a grizzly bear while camping, according to Field and Stream.

U.S. government scientists in March said that although the region's grizzlies population has recovered, it still needed required protection under the Endangered Species Act due to bear deaths caused by humans and other issues.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, said granting the state's request would allow state wildlife officials to have more room in dealing with bears involved in incidents. However, wildlife advocates are concerned that if the protections are removed, over-hunting could occur.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Montana, Grizzly Bears, Lift Protections Request
A grizzly bear walks through a back country campsite in Montana's Glacier National Park, on Aug. 3, 2014. Montana is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift threatened species protections for more than 1,000 grizzly bears in the northern part of the state, including in and around Glacier. Doug Kelley/The Spokeman-Review via AP, File

Hunting of grizzlies is banned in the U.S. outside Alaska. Bears considered problematic are regularly killed by wildlife officials.

"We've shown the ability to manage bears, protect their habitat and population numbers," Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Hank Worsech said in a statement. "It's time for us to have full authority for grizzly bears in Montana."

But wildlife advocates cautioned against giving the state control over grizzlies, after Republicans including Gianforte have advanced policies that make it much easier to kill another controversial predator, the gray wolf.

"We don't believe that there should be hunting of these iconic, native carnivores," said environmentalist John Horning with the group WildEarth Guardians. "I have no doubt the state would push it to the absolute limit so they could kill as many grizzlies as possible."

The Fish and Wildlife Service had not received the state's request and had no immediate comment, spokesperson Joe Szuszwalak said.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who oversees Fish and Wildlife Service, co-sponsored legislation while in Congress to increase protections for bears and reintroduce them on tribal lands. Haaland declined to say how she would approach the issue when questioned during her February confirmation hearings.

A legal petition to lift protections across northern Montana will be filed following a Dec. 14 meeting of state wildlife commissioners, said Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson Greg Lemon. The commission would be in charge of any future hunting season for grizzlies.

As many as 50,000 grizzlies once ranged the western half of the U.S. Most were killed by hunting, trapping and habitat loss following the arrival of European settlers in the late 1800s. Populations had declined to fewer than 1,000 bears by the time they were given federal protections in 1975.

Montana held grizzly hunts until 1991 under an exemption to the federal protections that allowed 14 bears to be killed each fall.

Protections were removed for more than 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park in 2017, but later restored by a federal judge.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said in September he will ask the federal government to remove protections for Yellowstone region grizzlies and permit the region's three states to manage and potentially allow hunting of the big bruins in certain areas.

Montana, Grizzly Bears, Lift Protections Request
U.S. government scientists in March said that although the region’s grizzlies population have recovered, they still needed required protection under the Endangered Species Act due to bear deaths caused by humans and other issues.In this photo is grizzly bear 101, a 20-year-old female, captured near West Yellowstone, Montana after attacking a hiker that approached her cubs and then getting into trash stored in the back of a pickup. She was moved onto the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center where she will spend the rest of her life in captivity. William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images