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Grizzly recovery plan critized during public comment

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MISSOULA, Mont. - Conservationists and concerned members of the public had the chance to give input Thursday afternoon on the habitat-based recovery criteria part of a larger grizzly recovery plan in the works since 2013.

"The 19 percent open motorized access density, the 19 percent total motorized access density and the 19 percent secure core habitat standards must remain in place," said Arlene Montgomery, who was representing the Friends of Wild Swan.

The plan was discussed only for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The ecosystem includes Glacier, Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and the surrounding forests.

"The United States Fish and Wildlife Service must identify the important foods and the habitat where they occur, then they must survey and monitor them annually to make sure they remain available," said Montgomery.

Her concern was mainly that the drafted plan did not account for future problems like global climate change.

Much of the public comment focused on whether using grizzly populations numbers from 2011 was sufficient for conservation efforts.

"With no knowledge of habitat in the baseline year, there is no knowledge going forward from which to judge improvement or decline," said Brian Peck of Whitefish.

The concern with the numbers was that it was based off an estimate of 765 grizzlies in 2004, which grew around 3 percent each year. That would total just under 1,000 in 2016, but critics were concerned the estimate did not account for habitat quality or quantity.

Other concerns had to do with habitat encroachment.

"Not counting all roads allows unlimited impacts to bears and spells disaster in the face of rapidly increasing high-speed trail running and mountain biking," said Keith Hammer. "It is resulting in the deaths of both bears and humans."

He was especially concerned about trails and roads for logging cutting through secure core habitat.

The acting director for grizzly bear recovery says its all a tricky balance.

"There are road density criteria, there are criteria for core management. There is discussion of grazing allotments and for campground construction," said Wayne Kasworm. "We also look at mining activity."

The public comment is considered an early step in the delisting of the grizzly in the NCDE area, but Kasworm says there is not currently a proposal to do so.

Though the meeting was very critical Kasworm says its an important part of discovering what other options are out there.

The public can continue commenting until July 22 by writing the Grizzly Recovery Office at the College of Forestry and Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University Hall Room 309, Missoula, MT 59812.

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