VERNON, N.J. (AP) – State officials have ticketed two bear hunt opponents
with freeing a young bear from a trap in New Jersey.
The BEAR Group released a short video on its Facebook page on which it says
a cub can be heard crying out for its mother.
The group’s lawyer, Doris Lin, tells The Star-Ledger of Newark the pair were
documenting what was happening, as was a third person who was not charged.
Lin would not comment on whether they were involved in the rescue.
The state placed two culvert traps at a condominium complex in Vernon after
two residents reported being charged at by a bear two weeks ago. The state
says the freed bear was younger and is not believed to have been involved in
I saw my first bear this summer. I was working from home in New Fairfield, a small town on the New York border in northern Fairfield County, when my normally quiet, 34-pound labradoodle retriever transformed into full beast mode. She flung her paws against the window, accenting furious barks with deep, guttural growls, unlike any sound I’d heard her make before.
Tips on how to stay safe at home and when out and about.
Walking onto my front porch, I saw a large black bear, lazily picking through the spoils of my garbage can, which he — I learned later this bear was probably male — had previously knocked over and opened.
I moved back into the house, flinging the door shut behind me. A moment later, prompted by my wife — whose motives I’m only now beginning to suspect — I ventured out again, to do what so many of us do when we encounter one of the Northeast’s most powerful predators: take a photo. As my camera clicked, the bear looked up from his food. Our eyes met.
2018 might be the year of the bear in Connecticut. Bear numbers swelled to about 800, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a population size not seen here in more than 150 years. Reported bear incidents also reached all-time highs, with more than 7,850 sightings reported to DEEP between October 2017 and September of this year.
In August, a bear walked through the automatic doors of a Bristol liquor store, and by October there were at least 25 reported instances of bears entering Connecticut homes this year. That is nearly twice the 2017 full-year total of 13 bear home entries, and far more than the yearly average of about six.
Bears have been seen in about 140 of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities. They are found in greatest numbers in Litchfield County, western Hartford County and the northern portions of both Fairfield and New Haven counties. However, they are moving south in Fairfield and New Haven counties, and have been spotted more frequently east of the Connecticut River, though there are no permanent bear establishments there as of yet. DEEP estimates Connecticut can support about 3,000 bears.
“As the population continues to grow and expand you will see them push into new territory,” says Chris Collibee, DEEP spokesman.
You will also likely see new proposals to legalize the limited hunting of bears, which is currently illegal in the state. “We’re the only state in New England without a bear hunt,” Collibee says.
Earlier this year, DEEP supported legislative efforts to allow for a limited bear hunt in Litchfield County. The proposal was voted down by the Legislature’s Environment Committee 21-8. As with similar proposals in the past, it met with fierce resistance from animal rights and environmental groups including the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club and Darien-based Friends of Animals, whose members point to statistics showing many more people die from hunting accidents than from bear attacks.
In testimony submitted in March, DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee said, “It is the opinion of our wildlife biologists that bear hunting — with prudent limitations — is consistent with best practices for wildlife management in Connecticut.”
With a new governor scheduled to take office, it is unclear what the state’s position on bear hunts will be going forward, but representatives of groups on both sides of the issue have stances that remain unchanged.
Sightings and confrontations have increased, and the wily canine isn’t going anywhere soon.
The Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, a state advocacy organization dedicated to protecting hunting and fishing rights as well as gun rights, has also lobbied the legislature in support of a bear hunt. Bob Crook, executive director of the organization, says that it is expensive for DEEP to deal with problem bears by catching or euthanizing them. “A better, more effective way of getting the population down is to allow hunting,” he says, noting there is interest in hunting bears from Connecticut hunters who would eat the meat and have the hide and fur tanned.
“Maybe somebody has to be killed by one of these bears before we take anything seriously,” he says.
Fran Silverman, communications director of Friends of Animals, which supports a vegan lifestyle, disagrees with Crook’s assessment of the risk. She says a bear hunt is more of a threat than that posed by bears, as hunting accidents are far more common than bear attacks. “In Connecticut, between 2011 and 2016, there’s been 13 accidents and one hunting fatality, and zero bear fatalities,” she says. Silverman adds that from 1982, around when bears first returned to Connecticut, up until 2016 there were 114 hunting accidents and 13 fatalities, while no one was killed by bears over the same time period.
Though there are attacks on livestock and pets each year in Connecticut, bear attacks on humans are exceedingly rare. In 2017, a bear was euthanized after swiping at a woman walking her dog in a Simsbury park, but Collibee from DEEP says, “We’ve never had an overly significant incident of a bear attacking a human, at least in recent memory.”
The bear population in Connecticut was nonexistent by the mid-1800s thanks to aggressive hunting and widespread deforestation to make room for farmland. Black bears survived in western Massachusetts, and after forests returned to much of Connecticut, they began traveling back in the 1980s. Males range from 150 to 450 pounds, and though they are not classified as true hibernators, their body temperature is lowered and heart rate slows during denning periods, generally between late November and mid-March in Connecticut. They commonly den under fallen trees or in brush piles, but varied sites are used including rocky ledges. While denning, they don’t eat, defecate or urinate, but will usually wake up when disturbed. Though bears are more active between March and November, Collibee says, “it is not unusual to see the occasional bear during the winter months.”
Bears have an excellent sense of smell and will seek out garbage and other food left outside. Though generally shy, and fearful of humans, according to DEEP’s fact sheet, “if they regularly find food near houses and areas of human activity, they can lose their fear of humans.”
Bear-hunt proponents believe a hunt would help instill a healthy fear of humans in more bears. Tracy Rittenhouse, a professor of wildlife ecology in UConn’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, says, “The scientific literature provides good evidence for other wildlife species changing their behavior in response to hunting,” but adds, “I think the evidence in the scientific literature specific to black bears just hasn’t been collected.”
In 2017, Rittenhouse published research showing that the largest bear populations in Connecticut were found on the fringes of suburban areas, rather than in rural areas. These “exurban areas” have woodlands as well as scattered houses, offering bears garbage- and bird feeder-foraging opportunities. More recently, Rittenhouse and colleagues looked at how bears living in low-density neighborhoods navigated through them. Analyzing data from GPS monitors on bear collars in currently unpublished research, they found that as bears travel across the state, on average, they avoid houses and roads, but “there are some [bears] that move through that neighborhood moving almost toward houses and toward roads.”
Rittenhouse says the behavior observed in both studies is most likely not behavior only exhibited by Connecticut bears.
“I’ve not seen anything here in Connecticut that’s completely different than bears in New York or Massachusetts,” says Rittenhouse, who will speak about the increased sightings of bears and other large mammals at an event of the Aspetuck Land Trust on Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church in Westport. “I think what’s unique about Connecticut is that we have [a lot of neighborhoods with] this housing density that typifies exurban housing development. … What our research has shown is that it’s a housing density that bears really like, too.”
The bear that visited my house and feasted on my garbage was huge. As cute as he looks in pictures, in real life he was terrifying. My wife hasn’t walked the dog at night since his appearance, and every time my dog barks, I go into high alert, scanning the perimeter of the lawn from my windows.
Even so, it would be heartbreaking to see this bear hunted and killed. While not everyone agrees with that sentiment, people on both sides of the bear hunt issue do agree that those of us who live in neighborhoods near bear populations need to take more steps to prevent encounters. These include keeping garbage in a shed or garage, not leaving bird feeders out from March till late November and storing grills inside. Bear sightings can be reported to DEEP through its website at ct.gov/deep. Those requiring immediate assistance with a bear should call DEEP’s 24-hour hotline at 860-424-3333.
I’ve heard the saying that “a fed bear is a dead bear,” the notion that feeding a bear, whether intentionally or unintentionally, lures them into more interactions with humans and increases the odds they will end up being euthanized. I took the saying to heart, moving my garbage indoors and attempting to clean my property of anything that might tempt the bear in the future. Bears frequently return to places where they’ve found food in the past, and a few weeks after my initial meeting, my dog once more sprung into beast mode. This time I knew the signs. Looking out the window, I watched as the bear walked down my driveway and past where the garbage used to be. Finding nothing, he kept walking instead of hanging out again. Thankfully, I haven’t seen him since.
ON THE MORNING OF THURSDAY, July 26, around 7,000 people logged in to the website of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, their fingers crossed. All had entered a lottery that would allow them to hunt a grizzly bear in the continental United States for the first time in decades.
One of these people was Kelly Mayor—a 56-year-old resident of Jackson, Wyoming. She had entered the lottery at the very last minute, just hours before it closed, and didn’t think to check the results until she got a reminder email. When she clicked through, she was greeted by a screen that said “#2.” She’d won the second spot in the hunt. “I was dumbfounded,” she says.
Mayor doesn’t actually want to kill a grizzly. She, like thousands of others across the country, entered the bear tag lottery as an act of protest. All these people are part of “Shoot ‘Em With a Camera, Not a Gun,” a movement spearheaded by a group of Wyoming women who are hoping to change how their state thinks about wildlife management—and maybe save some grizzlies in the process.
Huge and shaggy-coated, the grizzly bear is an icon of the American west. About 700 of them live in and around Yellowstone National Park, the beneficiaries of conservation efforts that have brought their numbers up fivefold since the mid-1970s, when they were first added to the endangered species list and began receiving federal protection. Last summer, Yellowstone-area grizzlies were removed from the list, and management of the bears was turned over to the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Montana decided not to have a hunt this year, and Idaho is raffling off a single license. But this past spring, the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission—the policy arm of the Game & Fish Department—voted unanimously to allow up to 22 bears to be killed. Commissioners argue that hunting a limited number of bears will reduce human-wildlife conflict, and that provisions in place—including mandatory training for tag winners and a prohibition on killing female bears with dependent young—will prevent the hunt from affecting the species’s recovery.
Others disagree with the decision. The American Society of Mammalogists has called the delisting “premature,” pointing out that although their population numbers have gone up, grizzlies are still not prevalent enough to guarantee a robust and genetically diverse population. Thanks to a campaign from the Center for Biological Diversity, several billboards in the West now depict a grizzly with the legend “I am not a trophy.”
One of the hunt’s opponents is Deidre Bainbridge, a lawyer who also lives in Jackson. Bainbridge is passionate about wildlife, and for years, she and others have been advocating for a category of nature enthusiast she calls “the non-consumptive advocate.” As opposed to a hunter, fisher, or trapper, Bainbridge explains, a non-consumptive advocate “cares about wildlife simply because it’s there”—although people may want to see it, or take a picture, they aren’t looking to kill it.
Because the Game & Fish department is funded by hunting and fishing licenses, along with firearm, ammunition, and fishing tackle sales, “that kind of person doesn’t have a voice” in management decisions, she says. (Game and Fish spokesman Renny MacKay says that the department “takes in significant amounts of public comment” through meetings and online, and that there are “definitely some ways that we [accounted for] some perspectives from people who aren’t hunters,” including prohibiting hunting within a quarter mile of a road.)
But what if non-consumptive advocates started buying hunting licenses, too? Late this spring, after a Game & Fish meeting she found particularly frustrating, Bainbridge got together with Lisa Robertson—the founder of Wyoming Untrapped, a local trapping reform advocacy group—and started combing through regulations for the grizzly hunt. “I couldn’t see where [we would be] interfering with a lawful hunt by buying a tag,” Bainbridge says. After all, she points out, people with hunting tags often choose not to pull the trigger, for all kinds of reasons. “We decided to do it.”
The more of them who entered the lottery, they figured, the better their odds of actually winning. Bainbridge and Robertson put their heads together with a few other concerned local women, each of whom brought their own particular skills: one is a well-connected philanthropist, one is a film producer with a lot of high-profile contacts, and one is an animal rights activist with a long history in the community.
Together, they began spreading the word, via a Facebook group and an ad in a local paper. They also started a GoFundMe campaign, so that if anyone actually did win a tag, the group could cover the associated costs, which begin at $600 for a Wyoming resident and $6,000 for an out-of-stater. “I would never have put in for a tag if I didn’t know that it could be reimbursed,” says Mayor, who found the campaign when a friend shared it on Facebook. She joined due to what she calls a “visceral” opposition to hunting animals just for sport. “I’m not opposed to hunting—my husband hunts, and we usually have game meat in the freezer,” he says. “But trophy hunting has always just hit me at my core.”
Many others felt similarly. “We had momentum within 48 hours,” Bainbridge says. “Women all over the country got involved.” It drew some big names: Jane Goodall applied for a grizzly tag, as did legendary elephant conservationist Cynthia Moss. As of press time, the GoFundMe has raised over $40,000, and Robertson told theAssociated Press that of the 7,000 or so people who entered the lottery, at least 1,000 were “Shoot ‘Em With a Camera” participants.
Some of these entrants, like Bainbridge, are playing the long game, intending that this will help Wyoming photographers and sightseers have a voice in wildlife management. “Others did it to simply stop the [gun-based] hunt for 10 days,” Bainbridge says—the length of time each tag-holder can spend in the field before they have to cede their ground to the next person. (The group focused their efforts on the lottery for Areas 1-6, where up to 10 grizzlies can be killed over the course of 60 days.)
In late July, the group learned that they had successfully won two tags, out of the 10 available. Mayor got #2, and the other, #8, went to Thomas Mangelsen—a wildlife photographer well-known for his images of Grizzly Bear 399, who is herself famous for mothering many cubs. “It’s almost uncanny,” says Bainbridge. “We couldn’t have planned it [this way].” If it takes the other winners more than a few days each to complete their hunts, it might be possible to run out the clock and save some bears.
In general, Shoot ‘Em With a Camera participants would prefer the hunt didn’t happen at all. On August 30, there will be a hearing in Missoula, Montana, during which opponents of the grizzly bear’s new status will try to get it returned to the endangered species list. “Our bigger quest is to prevent the trophy hunting in Wyoming [altogether], because we don’t believe that the delisting is appropriate at this time,” says Bainbridge.
But if it comes down to it, Mayor is ready to go. When she first learned she had won, she figured she would sit the actual “hunt” out. “I thought … I’d pay the tag money and walk away,” she says. But getting to know the Shoot ‘Em With a Camera crew has changed her mind. “The ladies have made it into such an amazing thing,” Mayor says. They’re going to send videographers and photographers with her, and take turns spending time out there themselves. If the hunt goes through, and her number gets called, she says, “I plan on being up there for 10 days.”
She’s looking forward to it. “I’m sort of an armchair activist,” she says. “I don’t really speak up about issues, but I definitely have feelings about things like this. This is really different for me, to have a voice.”
The poll found a whopping 71 percent of Alaskan voters oppose allowing hunters to use artificial light to attract hibernating black bears and their cubs out of their dens to kill them. Photo by Jos Bakker
A rule recently proposed by the Trump administration would roll back an Obama-era regulation that prohibits controversial and scientifically unjustified methods of hunting on Alaska’s national preserves, which are federal public lands. These egregious hunting methods include the use of artificial light to attract hibernating bears and their cubs out of their dens to kill them, shooting wolf and coyote pups and mothers at their dens, using bait to attract brown and black bears, shooting vulnerable swimming caribou, including with the aid of motorboats, and using dogs to hunt black bears. Biologists have already condemned these methods, and now a supermajority of Alaska’s residents have spoken out resoundingly against allowing them in their state.
The telephone poll, conducted by Remington Research Group and released by the Humane Society of the United States, found a whopping 71 percent of Alaskan voters oppose allowing hunters to use artificial light to attract hibernating bears and their cubs out of their dens to kill them. Sixty-nine percent oppose hunting black bears with packs of hounds, and 75 percent oppose hunting swimming caribou with the aid of motorboats. Sixty percent of Alaskan voters oppose the baiting of bears with pet food, grease, rotting game or fish or other high-calorie foods, and 57 percent oppose killing whole packs of wolves and coyotes when they are raising their pups in their dens.
The poll also found that a majority of voters disfavor allowing trophy hunters and trappers killing wolves, brown bears, black bears, wolverines, lynx and other wildlife on state lands along the northeast boundary of Denali National Park and Preserve.
On the other hand, live native carnivores like grizzly bears and wolves contribute immensely to the state’s economy. In Alaska, wildlife-watching tourism brings $2 billion every year to local, rural economies.
Most Alaskans do not want hunters, backed by the deep pockets of trophy-hunting groups like Safari Club International and Alaska Outdoor Council, treating their state as a shopping mall for bearskin rugs and wolf heads to adorn their walls. American wildlife is for all of us to enjoy, and you can do your part to help save it by submitting a commentopposing this new proposed rule by July 23.
While we know that Donald Trump hates sharks, at least according to Stormy Daniels. Turns out the president also hates baby bears, at least according to Jimmy Kimmel.
Kimmel’s realization came in the wake of news that the Interior Department is ending a ban on hunting hibernating bears and their cubs in their dens. The National Park Service, under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, apparently has a problem with some of the current protections for black bears, “including cubs and sows with cubs,” that prevent hunters from “harvest practices” that include using bait to lure bears out, using lights to find hibernating animals, and using dogs to kill bear cubs.
The National Park Service now wants to roll back those pesky rules that stop people from killing baby bears for fun, according to a proposal, which was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday. Under the proposed changes, hunters will now be able to hunt black bears with dogs, use motorboats to shoot swimming caribou, and kill wolves and pups in their dens. According to Kimmel, it’s all part of Trump’s plan to make America great again—and get rid of those evil baby bears.
On 23 May, Wyoming officials will vote on whether to allow the hunting of up to two dozen grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park this September. The proposed hunt has reignited controversy over whether or not this population of grizzlies has recovered from decades of hunting and habitat destruction — an issue that was central to the US government’s decision to take the bears in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem off the endangered-species list in 2017.
Seventy-three scientists sent a letter to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead on 25 April, asking him to halt the hunt until a panel of independent experts can review data on the size of the grizzly (Ursos arctos horribilis) population in this area.They are concerned that government tallies overestimate the number of bears in the ecosystem surrounding Yellowstone National Park, which spans roughly 80,000 square kilometres and is one of the largest continuous wilderness areas in the contiguous United States.
Critics challenge the federal government’s methods for assessing whether the grizzly population has become large enough to face a hunting season1. Those estimates might be too high because of a number of factors, says David Mattson, a wildlife researcher in Livingston, Montana, who retired from the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 2013. They include increased monitoring efforts in the past 30 years, better visibility of bears to aerial surveys — because of shifts in where the animals look for food — and assumptions that females will continue to reproduce until they die. There’s evidence that as female grizzlies age, they tend to reproduce less, Mattson says.
Wildlife scientist Frank van Manen, who leads the USGS Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) in Bozeman, Montana, disagrees with critics of the government estimates. The IGBST collects grizzly population data using a range of methods, including aerial surveys and tagging individual bears2, van Manen says, and the numbers from each method agree. He says that the current population estimate of 718 bears is “extremely conservative”.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department proposed the hunt in February on the basis of those population assessments, and gave the public until 30 April to submit comments on draft regulations. If the rules were to pass, hunters could take up to 12 bears in the monitored region surrounding Yellowstone National Park — an area of about 50,000 square kilometres. They would be allowed to kill a further 12 bears outside that monitoring area, but still in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The state’s wildlife commission is currently reviewing public comments ahead of the late-May vote.
When the US Department of the Interior ended federal protections for the Yellowstone grizzly bear last year, the agency turned management of the animals over to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming — the three states in which the animals live. Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission is gathering public comments on a possible hunt. But Montana officials decided to skip this year’s hunting season, citing pending lawsuits claiming that the animals remain threatened.
Mattson and the other researchers who wrote to the governor about the hunt listed several concerns in their letter. Some of the bear’s food, including cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), will probably become even scarcer in the future as a result of environmental changes, the researchers say. This will threaten the survival of some bears and push them to hunt livestock or look for food near houses, increasing their run-ins with people, says Mattson. This could lead to a rise in the number of animals killed as a result of these conflicts, which would further shrink the population.
Even if the current population estimates are accurate, removing 24 animals through hunting could have detrimental effects, says Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who is based in Victor, Idaho. In 2017, 56 bears died in the IGBST monitoring area as a result of natural causes or conflicts with people. “If the same amount dies this year, we could be looking at up to 80 bears removed from the population,” Santarsiere says. “That’s about 10% of the current population.”
And killing females might pose even higher risks to the survival of Yellowstone grizzlies, Santarsiere says. The Wyoming proposal would allow the killing of no more than two females in the area around Yellowstone monitored by the IGBST, but it doesn’t put a cap on the number of females that hunters can take outside this area in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Females can carry up to four cubs at a time, Santarsiere says, “so killing one female could equal removing five bears from the population”.
The USGS’s Van Manen says the hunting proposal won’t pose a risk to the bear population. Only two hunters at a time would be allowed in the monitoring area, and the hunts would stop as soon as two females had been killed in this region, he says.
Wyoming officials seem to be intent on moving forward with this, says Louisa Willcox, a wildlife activist based in Livingston, Montana, who has been in contact with the state’s Game and Fish Department. “It’s extremely unlikely that the scientists’ comments will make them pause.”
Nature557, 148-149 (2018)
“The big challenge is still to deliver emissions reductions at the pace and scale needed, especially in a world where economies are driven by consumption.”
Sonja van Renssen.The inconvenient truth of failed climate policies. Nature Climate Change MAY 2018
In previous years, the spring grizzly bear hunt in B.C. would be getting underway by April, but a ban was imposed last year and new provincial regulations came into effect over the weekend to strengthen it.
A ban on trophy hunting was announced last August and, by December, all non-First Nations grizzly bear hunting throughout the province was illegal.
As of April 1, taxidermists and tanners in B.C. have to report any grizzly bears or grizzly bear parts brought to them within 10 days or face a $230 fine.
He said the additional changes on hunting this month come at a “monumental point in time” but there is still room for improvement.
“That fine needs to be probably 10 times the current amount in order to incentivize these individuals to keep honest and follow the reporting requirements, otherwise it’s just the cost of doing business,” he told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC’s On The Island.
Other changes for hunters
About 250 grizzlies are killed annually by hunters in B.C., according to a provincial estimate reported when the ban was first introduced.
“We are hoping that the grizzly hunt ban will signal a new era in how both the B.C. government and British Columbians in general will interact and relate to all our carnivores in the province,” Genovali said.
Under the new regulations, hunters must carry all their species licences during a hunting trip.
They must now also collect all the edible portions of large animals they kill, including cougars, mule deer, white-tailed deer, fallow deer, moose, elk, mountain sheep, mountain goat, caribou, bison and black bears.
On The Island
New grizzly bear hunting regulations take effect to strengthen ban
The NDP government amended the Wildlife Act regulations, starting over the weekend, to help enforce the ban on grizzly bear hunting. 6:13
Bushwhacking through a trail-less valley in the heart of North Cascades, I came across some enormous tracks and a huge pile of scat that, having not seen their maker, I attributed to either Bigfoot or a grizzly bear. But that was over 35 years ago and I haven’t seen hide nor hair, nor heard of many sightings of either of them since then.
I hate to tell Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, but a “conservation ethic” is something we should have before a species is hunted and trapped practically to extinction and is in need of augmentation—as is the case with Washington’s grizzly bears. Now that would be a real success story. And the few hundred specimens in the Greater Yellowstone area do not add up to a recovered species for the lower 48.
Yet, no sooner did our current Administration remove the imperiled bears from the Threatened Species List did the state of Wyoming set a plan to hunt 24 grizzlies this fall season. Meanwhile, Idaho, with an even lower population of grizzly bears, felt they could sacrifice one to five of them to trophy hunting, if only to get their goose-stepping foot in the door on the issue.
It’s worth noting that B.C. recently banned trophy hunting of grizzlies, and Montana has not yet made plans for a sport hunt on that species. The question for Washington is, which neighbors will we emulate now that the bears have lost their ESA protections?
And what’s next for the Northwest, a trophy hunt on Sasquatch? Believe me, you don’t want that smelly hominid hide hanging on your wall—not if you ever want to have house-guests.
Wyoming announced its plans to open grizzly bear hunting, now that the bruins in Greater Yellowstone no longer have the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
The reaction has been predictable. The people who didn’t want grizzlies delisted in the first place loudly protested.
“Wyoming’s reckless hunt ignores the fact that grizzly bears remain endangered in Yellowstone and across the west,” Andrea Santarsiere, an East Idaho-based senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release. “It’s tragic that these imperiled animals will be shot and killed so trophy hunters can stick heads on their walls.”
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams said her agency will manage grizzly bears for long-term recovery. It plans to prevent conflicts with humans by “continuing to work hard at responding proactively to bear conflicts, and educating people and communities in grizzly country how to be bear aware,” she said.
To meet the overall population goals, 17 male and two female grizzlies are allowed to be killed within the so-called demographic monitoring area around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Wyoming has the largest area and quota, allowing 12 bears killed. It is also allowing the same number in ranches and other areas surrounding the central grizzly habitat.
Montana would have been allowed six males. Idaho would be allowed only one inside the habitat area, which includes most of Island Park and parts of Ashton in East Idaho next to Yellowstone.
Federal officials have told the Idaho commission to consider requiring all hunters to take a mandatory bear identification class, to ensure they kill what they’re after.
Idaho game managers may also ask the commission to allow additional grizzlies to be killed outside of that habitat area, in a region west to Interstate 15. That request would likely focus on the Palisades Wilderness Study Area south of the Tetons and the Big Hole Mountains west of Teton Valley. It also could include part of the Centennial Mountains. The latter is the most important wildlife corridor linking two of the largest, wildest landscapes left in the Lower 48: the 20-million-acre Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the 22-million-acre Salmon-Selway ecosystem of Central Idaho.
If commissioners allow hunting in this critical wildlife corridor, they will make it harder for grizzly bears to migrate into Central Idaho — a region largely protected as wilderness without roads and development, and where grizzly bears were extirpated in the 1950s. Bears are still protected there under the Endangered Species Act, but only a few have wandered in from surrounding populations to the north, east and southeast.
Idaho still has grizzly bears up north in the Selkirk Mountains and the Cabinet-Yaaks near Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry. They remain protected as endangered, and the hunting proposal would not change that.
Meanwhile, our neighbor to the north, British Columbia, announced in December 2017 that it was ending grizzly hunting. The province has 15,000 grizzlies.
“It’s abundantly clear that most British Columbians do not support the killing of grizzlies,” said Doug Donaldson, British Columbia’s minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
There are many hunters who share delisting opponents’ distaste for grizzly hunting. Even more don’t like the practice of bear baiting, using food and other attractants to lure bears in. They consider it a violation of fair chase ethics, though a stronger case can be made for its use to deal with bears that become habituated to humans.
With such a low quota, Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore told hunters in 2017 not to expect a hunting season right away. The commission should stick with that advice for now.
Three 2-year-old grizzly bears are startled by an female elk as they playfully roam Swan Lake Flats in Yellowstone National Park. Idaho Statesman file
Humans are perhaps the greatest source of evolutionary pressure. Not greatest as in best—we just apply a lot of force.
In just a few thousand years we drastically changed the temperament of dogs by domesticating them, and in a couple hundred managed to diversify them into separate breeds. We’ve done the same to virtually every livestock animal. Yes, we are truly excellent at forcing other species to suit our needs and whims.
But perhaps our greatest work—and again, that’s not meant as a compliment—is how we’ve changed wild animals through hunting. The simple fact is that any time you hunt an animal, especially if you only want a specific subset of the population on your dinner table, you’re applying a selective pressure.
That’s exactly what’s happening in bear populations right now, at least in Sweden. Researchers took a careful look at data from the past two decades and realized that hunting regulations intended to protect mother bears and cubs have some unintended consequences—though not all bad. Because hunters are prohibited from shooting female bears with dependent cubs in tow, they’ve been selecting for bears who keep their kiddos with them for longer. As a result, their whole reproductive cycle has shifted to become slower. Prior to 1993, Scandinavian brown bear cubs all seem to spend about 1.5 years with their family. But now, about a quarter of all litters spend an extra year.
A happy bear family, protected by law.
These mothers have fewer offspring on average, because they don’t get pregnant again until their cubs leave. But that cost seems to be outweighed by the survival advantage both cubs and mama bears get by sticking together. Simply having more babies—which would have shortened the reproductive cycle—probably wasn’t as protective, since there’s still a vulnerable period between when cubs wean and when the mama bear can become pregnant again. Having your babies stick with you reduces vulnerable periods, since you get an extra full year of protection.
That’s not to say that all hunting regulations have positive impacts, though. Many have had negative outcomes.
Hunting elephants for their tusks—or, more accurately, poaching them—has imposed a powerful selection force against impressive teeth. Once a way to dominate your social group and defend yourself against predators, tusks have become a liability. An animal with less desirable tusks is more likely to avoid poachers and have lots of offspring. As a result, increasing numbers of elephants grow short, stumpy tusks or (in very rare cases) have none at all.
Deer & sheep antlers/horns
Pretty much any animal that has impressive antlers or horns—or any impressive physical feature that we can hang on our walls—is subject to artificial selection. Hunting regulations sometimes prohibit shooting young males who have fewer points on their antlers or underdeveloped horns, so hunters tend to kill the older specimens. But this just selects for deer (or sheep or what-have-you) with smaller headgear. Over time, many deer, antelope, and sheep populations have shifted to have males with less impressive accoutrement.
Even when we’re not selecting for headgear, we usually select for sex. Human hunters tend to target male animals at much higher rates, which often skews the gender balance of wild populations. This isn’t always a bad thing, especially because many animals are polygynous—one male takes many female mates. But drastic shifts can change the calving season, which in turn can lower offspring body weight and survival rate. If you’re a moose or an elk born too late, you don’t have enough time to eat and grow before the next winter sets in.
Trout & salmon
Speaking of body size, let’s talk about fishing. Even moderate fishing applies selection force. Fishermen and -women generally want to catch the biggest specimens, whether it’s for the profit or just the food, which means we’re systematically killing off the largest fish in any given population. This means that popular fish like trout and salmon are decreasing in size overall, since being smaller gives fish a survival advantage. They’re going to keep shrinking until we stop selecting for the biggest swimmers.
One slightly more unusual case: the silver fox. They’re a variant of regular foxes, who mostly have red fur. In the 1800s, as many as 20 percent of foxes in eastern Canada had this silvery sheen. Trappers soon realized they could get three times the price for a silver pelt as they could for the standard red, so they actively sought out the mutants. Even though they only trapped slightly more silver foxes proportionally, by 1930 they had dropped the silver fox population to just 5 percent overall. Now we’re mostly stuck with silver foxes of the human variety.