Grizzlies walk political tightrope as state, feds reverse course on protections

Editor’s note:

This story is part of the Lee Enterprises series “Grizzlies and Us.” The project examines the many issues surrounding the uneasy coexistence of grizzly bears and humans in the Lower 48, which have come more into focus in recent years as the federallyprotected animal pushes farther into human-occupied areas. The 10-part series, comprised of more than 20 stories, was produced by reporters and photojournalists across the Rocky Mountain West.

Grizzly bear managers sat side-by-side at the Augusta Community Center in June, listening and answering questions for nearly two hours from a restless crowd gathered to talk increasing numbers of the bruins.

Attendees voiced concerns over human safety and livestock conflicts, asked how many bears now occupy the prairie east of the Rocky Mountain Front and where the federal government stands on delisting. But in the world of grizzlies, an animal that can be both revered and yet polarizing at the same time, answers are seldom simple.

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Officials such as Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Hank Worsech and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear coordinator Hilary Cooley, often delved into the uncertainty of challenging regulatory processes, past legal decisions and strongly

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