by Karl Puckett
Tribune Staff Writer
Great Falls Tribune
Report shows griz recovery areas too small
A paper published this week in a scientific journal argues that grizzly bears need a lot more space if they’re to survive longterm.
The report, “Spatial Needs of Grizzly Bears in the U.S. Northern Rockies” says bears are occupying areas almost twice the size of current recovery borders in place to protect them. The conclusion is based on 10,000 observations of grizzlies.
Published in Northwest Science, a quarterly publication of the Northwest Scientific Association, author Mike Bader of the Missoula-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies makes the case that the recovery zones should be adjusted to acknowledge the wider territory.
Changing the boundaries to include the bigger ranges would lead to more protection, Bader concludes.
That’s because bears outside of the existing boundaries don’t receive as much consideration by federal agencies when projects that could hurt habitat, or increase the risk of mortality, are completed, he said. Inside the zones, the bears receive more consideration. Grizzlies are a threatened species.
“The bottom line is, current recovery zones can’t supply enough habitat area to add up to viable numbers for the population,” said Bader.
John Waller of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday that he hadn’t seen the report and couldn’t comment until he had. Chris Servheen, who heads the agency’s grizzly recovery program, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Bader says bears need 71,000 square miles in and around the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s five recovery zones within the northern Rockies: Yellowstone, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Selway-Bitterroot and the Northern Continental Divide, which includes the Rocky Mountain Front 60 miles west of Great Falls.
Today, Bader said, there are 20,000 square miles of recovery area – 27,000 including the Selway-Bitterroot, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to reintroduce bears.
“To have effective management, we have to acknowledge where bears are and manage for their presence, because they are present,” he said.
Bader reported that bears moved to the south and east of the Yellowstone management boundary near Jackson Hole, Wyo., and to the north in the Tobacco Root Mountains and other areas near Bozeman.
Bader said the Northern Continental Divide recovery zone most closely matched the actual distribution of the bears – except on the east side, which includes the Front. Bear managers have been dealing with an increasing number of bears in recent years roaming farther from the recovery zone on both the east and south ends of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
In Bader’s view, recovery zones should be expanded to include more of central Idaho and the Yellowstone area, land between the Cabinet Mountains and the South Fork of the Clark Fork River along the Idaho border and forest between the Kootenai and Flathead national forests and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
Using a computer program, Bader put 3,000 observations of grizzlies that had been documented by state and federal agencies and produced digital locations on a map. He compared that information with another 7,000 locations in state and federal research and reports and maps. He then put the two sets of numbers together in a composite map.
The expanding range doesn’t necessarily mean the population is dramatically growing. For instance, a lack of food brought on by drought may contribute to bears traveling more, Bader said.
Read article: Three New Reports on Grizzly Bear Distribution and Habitat Needs in the U.S. Northern Rockies Say Bears Won’t Survive Unless Their Habitat Area is Increased Greatly.