Supporters of the bill included ranchers along the Rocky Mountain Front who have been outspoken as the bears expand east onto the plains.
But opponents of the bill pointed out that the “threatening” livestock provision conflicts with federal law. As long as the bears remain federally protected, state law is trumped. The bill could give ranchers a false impression of when they can and cannot shoot bears in defense of life or property, critics have said.
Gianforte announced the signing of SB 98 on Wednesday.
“Grizzly bear populations are recovered in Montana,” a spokesperson for the governor said. “If grizzly bear management is turned over to the state, this bill ensures Montanans can protect themselves and their livestock from growing predator populations.”
SB 337 also makes declarations that grizzly bears are recovered and should be put under state management. The bill then makes two important changes on how Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will respond to issues with the bears.
The first provision of SB 337 dictates that should FWP capture a bear, it may only relocate it to areas pre-approved by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The second provision of the bill restricts the state’s role in relocating bears captured during conflicts. Specifically, the bill allows FWP to respond to a conflict and capture a bear. If the bear is captured outside of a federal recovery zone, the law prohibits the state from relocating the animal, meaning federal authorities would be responsible for moving or euthanizing.