It speaks to Montanans’ high interest in grizzly bears that 157 individuals have been nominated to serve on a grizzly bear advisory committee that may have 20 seats at most. Now comes the difficult task of whittling down the lengthy list of volunteers.
Gov. Steve Bullock is already committed to ensuring the committee encompasses the widest possible range of perspectives and a comprehensive variety of expertise. But Bullock must also take pains to make his selection process as transparent as possible, and to fully explain to the public the reasoning behind his picks. At a minimum, the names and qualifications of the volunteers need to be posted on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website. That way, when the eventual selections are made, people can see for themselves just how representative the council is.
After all, the advisory council will represent the general public on critical grizzly bear management matters, an issue of looming importance as the bears face the likely loss of federal protections.
Montana shares responsibility for four grizzly recovery zones, each of which is home to its own unique challenges. Moreover, on top of the regional distinctions, a key component to successful recovery involves connecting genetically isolated populations. The council must therefore consider how to promote healthy bear populations while also finding effective ways to reduce conflicts with humans.
According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, the advisory council will consider how best to:
• Maintain and enhance human safety
• Ensure a healthy and sustainable grizzly bear population
• Improve the response to conflicts involving grizzly bears
• Engage all partners in grizzly-related outreach and conflict prevention
• Improve intergovernmental, interagency, and tribal coordination
That’s a tall order, and to that end, the members of the council clearly should come to the table prepared to share expertise on bear behavior – but also human behavior. Montanans across the state will need to learn how to safely share a home with grizzly bears.
As FWP Region 2 Supervisor Randy Arnold noted in a recent Missoulian news article: “There are a lot of folks who will soon be dealing with grizzly bears who have not been a part of this conversation.” The governor’s advisory council offers an opportunity for these folks to have their concerns considered and answered before any major problems arise.
But Governor Bullock must first reassure the public that no legitimate concern will be ignored, and no voice will go unheard. He can get started on the right foot and set a clear expectation of transparency throughout the process by being open with the public as he selects the members of the Grizzly Bear Advisory Council.