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Grizzly bear on bison carcass near Yellowstone Lake

Figuring out where grizzly bears want to go and how they might be counted top the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear managers.

After a federal judge derailed attempts to remove Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park in September, it’s unlikely that the northern region's grizzlies will see a proposed delisting rule by the end of 2018.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly recovery coordinator Hillary Cooley will update the bear managers on how the federal agency plans to address the court decision and where the process may go in the coming year.

The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) covers all of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, as well as parts of the Blackfeet and Flathead Indian reservations. It holds an estimated 1,050 grizzly bears. They have been protected as a federally threatened species since 1975.

Tuesday’s meeting features a panel discussion on how those bears might find connections to other recovery areas, including the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem and Bitterroot-Selway Ecosystem. In October, a male grizzly got trapped near the Whitetail Golf Course in the Bitterroot Valley but was relocated north of Interstate 90 in the NCDE. The Bitterroot has no resident grizzlies, despite having a federally approved plan to reintroduce an experimental population there that’s been on the books since 2000.

The panel discussion will include Gary Burnett of Heart of the Rockies, Vickie Edwards of Five Valleys Land Trust, Ryan Lutey of Vital Ground, Sara Sylte of the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildlife Management Institute, Deb Wambach of Montana Department of Transportation and FWP spokesman Greg Lemon. Panelists will discuss ways to reduce grizzly conflicts, conservation of private grizzly habitat and linkage corridors, and ways to help wildlife cross roadways.

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FWP Wildlife Program Manager Ken McDonald will review how the state plans to monitor and count grizzlies if it takes over responsibility for the bears when and if they are delisted.

The state agency intends to use part of the conservation strategy developed by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee that sets thresholds for how many bears must occupy parts of the NCDE before development or hunting activity could take place. The proposed rules would also define methods of measuring grizzly population trends and physical condition to ensure the bears don’t need restoration of federal protection.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the DoubleTree Hotel. Public comment will be taken at 4 p.m.

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