The Cabinet Grizzly two-step 

The singles scene for male grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem could improve vastly in coming years, should Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park’s (FWP) preferred alternative in its Grizzly Bear Manage-ment Plan become a reality.

FWP’s preferred alternative proposes increasing the number of female grizzlies relocated to the Cabinet-Yaak. According to FWP spokesman John Fraley, only about five grizzlies have been relocated to the area in the last decade. Under the FWP proposal, another 15 would be relocated over the next five years.

FWP believes that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population, already listed as endangered, has been declining. Currently the agency says about 40 grizzlies call the area home.

Through increased relocation, FWP hopes eventually to see 90 to 125 grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak.

Cesar Hernandez, of the Montana Wilderness Association, says increased grizzly relocation “may be a step forward.” But, he says, proposed mining operations that would eat into grizzly habitat surrounding the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness could constitute “two steps back.”

A recently released review of subsidence issues with Revett Minerals’ proposed Rock Creek Mine, which would be located on the Cabinet’s west side and burrow underneath it, seems to bolster the prospects of that mine’s future with its conclusion that subsidence at the mine site is an unlikely impact.

Meanwhile, there’s word that the Montanore mine, which sits on the east side of the Cabinet Mountains and was closed by Noranda Mineral Corporation during the exploration phase in 2002, is being eyed for reopening by its new owner.

According to Kootenai Forest Geologist John McKay, Mines Management Inc. (MMI), which purchased Noranda Mineral Corp. in March of this year, submitted a proposal in June to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality that, if approved, would allow MMI to open the cement seal placed over the Montanore mine. If the shaft proves usable, McKay says, MMI already has the permits necessary to resume exploration.

Between proposed management alternatives and potential mine sites, the future of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies appears to be at a crossroads, but Fraley notes that it’s in mining companies’ best interest to see the grizzly population increase.

“As far as using natural resources, they’re better off having a recovered species than an endangered one,” he says.

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