Marias River Livestock Association was just formed when the issue of Grizzly Bears was brought forward by a few members in the fall/winter of 2012. Most of the MRLA member had not had to deal with bears but members in Pondera and a few along the Marias River had found bears to be a problem. It was a time for us all to learn what was happening at our neighbors.
During the legislative session of 2013 Woolgrowers took the lead bringing two important bills to the Legislature. The first bill was to authorize Montana’s Livestock Loss Board to compensate Montanans for livestock losses that occur as a result of grizzly bear kills. The second bill was to provide money to the Livestock Loss Board that would then be allocated out to ranchers, associations, and wildlife managers for implementing preventative measure such as electric fences to minimize or stop conflicts between Grizzlies and humans or livestock. These bills gained the support of MRLA and the other agriculture groups and met with success.
In spring of 2013, Marias River Livestock Association held three meetings called “Let’s Talk About Bears.” The meetings were held in Shelby, Conrad and Valier and were well attended by 30 to 65 people at each meeting. Montana FWP was invited to listed to the concerns that the local residents had. The passion seen in these meeting helped to focus the MRLA leadership on ensuring that the local voices were heard and the concerns addressed.
While the meetings brought forward wide and diverse points of view and various levels of experience with bears, there were two objectives that could be generally agreed on.
- Bears are not acceptable in towns, colonies or ranch yards (Human Settlements) and FWP/ USFWS bear management should reflect that. Problem bears need removed from the population.
- Education on how to live with bears could be made available to those who wanted to participate. Our prime objective should be keeping people safe.
MRLA has engaged and worked with the MFWP, USFWS and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee since that time, striving to continuously bring those two objectives to the forefront and have them addressed. While MRLA pressed the issue the Grizzly population continued to increase and spread past the Eastern Rocky Mountain Front and onto the prairie to the Sweet Grass Hills and past Brady into the Golden Triangle area. MRLA engaged the Department of Livestock reminding them of their obligation to protect livestock from predation and they too began to advocate for ranchers livestock, human safety and property rights.
MRLA wrote letters, made phone calls, attended meeting and generally dug in and fought for human safety and the safety of private property to be of top priority.
During the Winter NCDE IGBC Subcommittee, Novembre 29, 2016, Nina Baucus, Board of Livestock, George Edwards, Livestock Loss Board, Miller colony, Birch Creek and Pondera Colony , Cody Yeager and his father Harold and Maggie Nutter, Marias River Livestock Association all stood and gave public testimony of the abundance of bears and need for better management. FINALLY, we were heard.
During the December IGBC Executive Committee meeting December 13 & 14, Jim Williams, MFWS, introduced the NCDE annual report by stating, “We have exceeded the social tolerance for grizzly bears in some parts of the ecosystem.” video He went on to explain that social tolerance is a big deal. That there is biological feasibility for wildlife population growth and support in an ecosystem, but there is also social tolerance. Williams expressed the need for amending the management of the Grizzly bears in the NCDE and that they were going to develop a “Clear Plan of Action.”
Ken McDonald, Wildlife Chief of Staff, MFWP, made a motion (Video) at the very end of the last IGBC Executive Meeting in Missoula, (Dec 13 & 14, 2016) asking the IGBC Executive Committee to send a letter to the USFWS requesting them to gather the resources/science and staff to write the Delisting Rule. In effect McDonald was saying Montana FWP believes all the science is there, the population numbers meet the goal and that the Forest Service is putting in place the habitat protections. The conservation Strategy was prepared and put out for public comment in 2013. You can go to this site and find the Conservation Strategy under the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/grizzlyBear.php That Conservation Strategy needs population updates or another post delisting management plan with population updates needs developed. The IGBC Executive Committee unanimously voted to ask the USFWS to move to gather the resources (science /research and staff) and write the delisting rule for the NCDE.
Then Karen Bush the head of USFWS for the State of Montana stated that as soon as the new Grizzly Bear Recover Coordinator is put in place they would make that a priority. They have the person selected but their job need wrapped up and all the paperwork USFWS does to transfer staff needs done first. They figure that will be a few months out.
So the process is moving forward. It is not an immediate eraser of all the problems, but the issue has been recognized and steps are being taken. The testimonies of Harold Yeager, David Waldner, Ben Wipf and Ruben Hofer were key in getting the IGBC committee on track and giving them the support to take action. We need more people at the summer IGBC executive meeting which will be held in Choteau, Montana, June 20 21 and 22. Being silent allows other organizations and agencies to decide our fate.