BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) has formally submitted a Habitat Conservation Plan to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which outlines mitigation measures designed to reduce train-caused grizzly mortalities in northwest Montana.
The Habitat Conservation Plan was developed over years of consultation with bear experts from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Blackfeet Nation and Glacier National Park. The Habitat Conservation Plan commits more than $2 million in funding to grizzly bear conservation projects and programs over the life of the plan.
“The Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department has been actively involved in the development of the BNSF Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) since 1991. We are excited to learn that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may soon finalize the BNSF HCP and Implementation Plan,” said Gerald “Buzz” Cobell, Director, Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department. “The Blackfeet Nation plays a vital role in the Northern Continental Divide Grizzly Bear Ecosystem, and we look forward to the addition of a bear technician to augment our critically important bear management program. We look forward to working with Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation and Great Northern Environmental Stewardship Area (GNESA) to reduce the potential for train-caused mortality and human-caused mortality of grizzly bears in the railway right-of-way.”
Cobell continued, “We would like to thank BNSF, USFWS, MFWP, Flathead NF and all the other agencies, groups and companies who contributed to this worthwhile effort.”
“BNSF has supported grizzly bear recovery efforts for more than 20 years in partnership with wildlife agencies, and it is thanks to the efforts of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Blackfeet Nation and many others that the grizzly bear population is growing in Montana,” said John Lovenburg, BNSF’s vice president, environmental. “BNSF is grateful for their efforts, and we believe the Habitat Conservation Plan will further help to protect grizzly bears in Montana.”
The plan will be administered by the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works closely with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Department on conservation efforts throughout the state.
“The Habitat Conservation Plan represents years of local conservation collaboration between BNSF Railway, public agencies, Tribes and local communities across northwest Montana,” said Jim Williams, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Regional Supervisor in Kalispell. “This plan will commit important funding that increases resources for on-the-ground grizzly bear conservation work between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. FWP is grateful that BNSF is supporting the future of grizzly bear recovery.”
In the Habitat Conservation Plan, which supports an application for an incidental take permit, mitigation measures include:
• Funds to support salaries and operations for Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife Department bear managers;
• Funds to support the continued development of a database to track grizzly bear movements and mortalities;
• Commitment to adapt strategies and provide additional funding, if necessary, to meet plan goals;
• Funds to improve and install new bear-proof waste containers and transfer stations
• Funds for fencing to prevent human-bear conflict; and,
• Funds for bear education for people who live and recreate in bear country.
The Habitat Conservation Plan also creates a technical committee, which includes the wildlife experts who helped develop BNSF’s strategy. The committee will include representatives from BNSF, Amtrak, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation Fish & Wildlife Department. The technical committee will review the work being done by BNSF, offer recommendations on how to adapt the plan to changes in the environment, and report annually to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service the on work being done pursuant outlined in the plan.
The application is being reviewed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which will issue its decision on the application. That document, the application and the plan will be available for public comment in the Federal Register.