After a subcommittee closed its spring meeting to the public, the leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Executive Committee acknowledged the breach of open-meeting laws, although it took some time.

Last week, Jacqueline Buchanan sent a letter to several environmental groups saying the Bitterroot subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee shouldn’t have shut the public out of most of its May 28 meeting.

Buchanan is the Deputy Regional Forester in U.S. Forest Service Region 2 around Colorado, but she’s also the new IGBC chair, having taken over this year from former Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks director Martha Williams.

This year, Williams was appointed as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principle Deputy Director.

“From the agenda of that meeting, we recognize that most of that agenda should have been open to the public per the IGBC charter,” Buchanan wrote in the June 30 letter. “Going forward, we will communicate with incoming subcommittee Chairs to ensure that subcommittee agendas are generally open per the IGBC Charter.”

The Bitterroot subcommittee had a full agenda for its Zoom meeting, but the public was only allowed to listen to the last hour in the afternoon when the leaders and biologists of various agencies of the region gave their summary reports.

The public wasn’t able to hear discussions of “Outfitter Conversations on the Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest,” “Exploring the Human Dimension equation in grizzly conservation in Idaho,” a science subcommittee report, and “Discussion on the Proposal for Change to the IGBC” that were listed on the agenda.

The new subcommittee chair, JJ Teare, supervisor of the Clearwater Region of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said he’d decided the subcommittee members could get more done if allowed to work in private.

That not only broke open-meeting laws of Montana and Idaho, but also the charter of the IGBC which says, “IGBC meetings will generally be open to the public and provide a time for public comment. The Chair may call for an Executive Session limited to committee members and staff for discussions of sensitive topics such as personnel matters, litigation or other confidential issues.”

A few weeks later, 25 environmental groups and independent scientists led by WildEarth Guardians wrote Buchanan a letter protesting the blackout, which they delivered during the Executive Committee’s Zoom meeting on June 15-17. The coalition said they expected a response within 10 business days.

“Shutting out the public is totally unacceptable and must not be repeated by the IGBC. We request an apology, a formal reiteration of the IGBC’s open meeting policy, as well as recordings, handouts and notes on the blacked-out portion of the meeting,” the letter said.

“This action has undermined faith and confidence in the IGBC and raises questions about the government’s willingness to be transparent and to objectively pursue grizzly bear recovery in the Northern Rockies, a resource held in trust by the American people.”

Buchanan brought the letter up during the June 17 meeting, saying the IGBC values public participation and engagement. But that’s as far as she went then.

In her June 30 letter, Buchanan said notes from the Bitterroot subcommittee meeting would be posted on the IGBC website sometime in early July, and the subcommittee’s fall meeting would be in person.

As of July 7, no meeting summary was posted on the website, and no future meeting dates are posted for any subcommittee or the executive committee.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.