B.C. grizzly advocate is bringing the bears to your living room through a podcast

Nicholas Scapillati interviewed people throughout North America to produce heart-warming stories about human- grizzly interactions

Very soon you can put on your headphones and enter the world of grizzlies and hear stories from people who are on the front-lines of conservation.

Nicolas Scapillati, executive director of Grizzly Bear Foundation, a Vancouver based non-profit, is excited to bring grizzly stories to people’s living rooms through his podcast series, GrizzCast which will be aired on July 6.

As a grizzly advocate, Scapillati has always propagated awareness and education as the foremost tool to conserving grizzlies and reducing wildlife conflict.

Scapillati travelled across North America and interviewed people involved in grizzly conservation.

For the seven-episode series, that will release on the first Monday of each month, he spoke with people from unique professional backgrounds.

“You have scientists, hereditary chiefs, war correspondents, hunters turned conservationists, fishers and others who have such great stories,” Scapillati said, and added, that these stories will “inspire people” to see how they can play a role in conservation.”

While the colourful backgrounds and heartwarming interactions of the people add to well-researched informative pieces, the real stars of the show are the iconic grizzlies.

Scapillati said that people will be drawn in because the podcast is all about grizzlies.

“There’s so much people can learn about these animals that are so often misunderstood because people are afraid of it and don’t know how to live with it,” said Scapillati.

With more grizzlies turning up at a lot of places where they’ve historically never been before, these podcasts will be particularly helpful to “re-frame” human relationships with grizzlies.

READ MORE:Vancouver Island grizzlies: moving in, or just passing through?

There’s humour, adventure, excitement, and lots of information about the bears in each episode.

In the first episode, set in Yellowstone, Doug Peacock talks about the ‘healing power of grizzlies’ and how being around these “wonderful animals” saved his life.

In another episode, a former hunting guide from Yukon, Phil Timpany, talks about how the remorse of trophy hunts changed him to become a bear conservationist.

Closer to Vancouver Island, hereditary chief Mike Willie talks about indigenous led conservation and the cultural significance of grizzlies to the First Nations.

Scapillati and Willie also talk about Mali the beloved grizzly who was shot near Broughton Archipelago after being relocated through historic joint efforts.

READ MORE: Mali, the grizzly shot after an epic relocation, to be buried today on First Nation’s land

Episodes of GrizzCast will be available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, YouTube and iHeart Radio.

For podcast updates and more on Grizzly Bear Foundation’s work to protect the grizzly bear, visit grizzcast.grizzlybearfoundation.comhttps://www.campbellrivermirror.com/news/b-c-grizzly-advocate-is-bringing-the-bears-to-your-living-room-through-a-podcast/

“What Are We Fighting About?” 9th Circuit Hears Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Delisting Case

May 20, 2020

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Louisa Willcox

 Court hearings over the fate of grizzlies have always made me nervous, and the one on May 5th was no exception. For the second time in ten years, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on whether or not Yellowstone grizzlies should be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The future of Yellowstone’s bruins rests upon whether or not this panel upholds a 2018 order issued by Montana District Judge Dana Christensen to restore endangered species protections for the Yellowstone population.

My throat tightened when Judge Andrew Hurwitz asked: “What are we fighting about here?” The answer has more to do with morality and compassion than it does with legal technicalities. And the question deserves to be examined in light of three decades of court battles over Yellowstone grizzlies – battles that I’ve watched from a front-row seat.

First, some context. The panel’s hearing capped a legal dispute that has raged for the past three years over whether endangered species protections for the Yellowstone bear should be stripped. A final ruling is expected in the next several months. At issue is whether management authority should be turned over to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana – states that plan to kill more bears, including by trophy hunting.

The hearing was surreal because the federal government had already conceded defeat, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the US Fish & Wildlife Service (the Service) needed to step back and analyze how delisting Yellowstone’s bears would affect recovery of grizzlies in other nearby populations. In another example of legal arcana, grizzlies in the more robust population around Glacier Park, as well as in the Selkirks and Cabinet-Yaak, are considered part of the “remnant.”

Judge Hurwitz was justifiably confused by the fact that federal lawyers were demanding the Court’s precious time to contest what seemed an uncontested issue, asking: “Is there anybody in this case who doesn’t think the remnant shouldn’t remain listed? Tell me what we’re fighting about if everybody agrees the remnant should remain listed.”

Department of Justice attorney Joan Pepin, who represented the Service, agreed but then dodged, asking the court to narrow the scope of Christensen’s ruling to give the agency maximum “flexibility.” Pepin doth protest too much, I thought.

So what was this hearing about anyway?  In a word: Wyoming.

What are We Fighting About? Wyoming and State Management

I have no doubt that Wyoming led the charge into the 9th Circuit. Indeed, for the last three decades, Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF) Department has spearheaded the fight to wrest control over managing grizzlies from the federal government.

So it was hardly surprising to see Wyoming’s attorney, Jay Jerde, presenting arguments on behalf of intervenors that included Idaho and — tellingly — the NRA, Safari Club, and livestock organizations.

Like me, Jerde has gotten grizzled during the many years he’s contested management of Yellowstone bruins. But his age-worn tune hasn’t changed: “the bear is recovered, we are the professionals, and federal management of endangered species violates state sovereignty over wildlife.  Give us the keys to grizzly bear management.”

I first heard this mantra in 1992, when WGF Director Pete Petera tried to bully the Service into delisting Yellowstone grizzlies. But Wyoming (in concert with Idaho and Montana) had begun agitating to remove ESA protections as early as 1985 when Yellowstone grizzlies were at their nadir of only a few hundred bears. The states’ zeal may seem baffling unless you consider their longstanding financial dependencies on hunters, their belief that large carnivores are part of a zero-sum competition for elk, their blind devotion to hunting, and their obsessive quest for power.

Delisting would allow the states to unleash a lethal regime on Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, exacerbating recent population declines triggered by the climate-driven loss of whitebark pine— a source of food that had been (and in some places still is) a staple of Yellowstone bears. There is little doubt that state management would push bears in this ecosystem back to the precipice they narrowly escaped only because of federal intervention under the ESA.

Nonetheless, Jerde requested that the Court reject Judge Christensen’s order in its entirety and reinstate the Service’s 2017 rule that had delisted grizzlies and triggered the current round of litigation.

Importantly, Wyoming would not have had its day in court if the Service, the Defendant in the case, had declined to appeal Christensen’s ruling. Having seen plenty of tantrums by Wyoming Game and Fish officials over the years – including threats to walk away from grizzly bear management entirely if the Service did not rush to delist – I could just imagine the drama behind the scenes that led to the federal government’s half-hearted appeal. (It should be said that the Service shares the states’ delisting agenda, but with a more civil demeanor and, sometimes, a tad more sense).

At a fundamental level, this hearing was about little more than the federal government giving Wyoming a stage to throw another fit — in front of a different audience.

But, for the grizzly, the stakes could not be higher.

Washing Dishes: Binding or Voluntary?

On behalf of WildEarth Guardians, Matt Bishop of Western Environmental Law Center addressed the threats posed by long-term genetic isolation of Yellowstone’s grizzly population. In his relisting order, Christensen had found that the government had not adequately addressed this issue, noting that the Service had “illogically cobble[d]” together studies to demonstrate that the population’s isolation was no longer a threat to the species’ continued survival.”

Bishop reinforced his conclusion, saying: “Not a single (scientific) paper has said that grizzlies are OK in the long term.”

Scientists are increasingly concerned about the century-plus isolation of Yellowstone grizzlies, which is especially worrisome given the population’s relatively small size. Out of a population of 740 or so animals, only a couple hundred can potentially breed. In the long term, geneticists believe that this is a recipe for disaster, and argue that the best solution is to reconnect Yellowstone to other grizzly bear populations. Experts also maintain that relocating grizzlies to Yellowstone from other populations is a move of last resort.

In recent years, grizzlies have been expanding westward from Yellowstone and southeast from the Northern Continental Divide, raising hopes for natural connectivity. But Bishop warned that hunting grizzlies on the ecosystem’s periphery would reverse this progress.

In response to questioning, Pepin said that the Service would consider translocating grizzlies to Yellowstone to augment genetic diversity if Northern Rockies populations did not reconnect naturally. But she did not commit the government to any course of action to address the problem.

Bishop made the case for binding rather than discretionary commitments. He got the only smile of the day from all three judges when he used the analogy of negotiating with his teenage daughter over washing the dishes: would she do what he asked or just consider the request?

Clearly, a win on this issue could boost prospects for reconnecting grizzly bear populations in the Northern Rockies, including recolonization of the vast Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that grizzlies are just now rediscovering.

Paper vs. Real Bears and the Counting Problem

Jerde was especially worked up over the lower court’s decision regarding management of bear mortality if new methods are adopted to count bears — an issue called “recalibration.” Judge Christensen had found that future changes in methods for estimating population size could result in creating “paper bears” and allow state managers to kill hundreds more bears by using different but convenient statistical gimcrackery.  The Service can change methods, he ruled, but it must ensure that management of mortality is prudent and precautionary.

During deliberations in 2016 over the Service’s draft delisting rule, both the former Director of the Service, Dan Ashe, and former Yellowstone Park Superintendent, Dan Wenk, had raised concerns about the consequences of creating paper bears. Both were called to heel by higher-ups catering to state interests.

Jerde claimed that methods for counting bears would not change for the “foreseeable future.” But federal scientists have repeatedly stated that they will soon unveil a new method – a fact that 9th Circuit Judge Paul J. Watford echoed, saying: “There are strong indications in the very near future a new population estimator will be adopted.”

The most likely method on the horizon would almost certainly boost bear numbers by a substantial amount. If benchmarks for managing mortality are not correspondingly “recalibrated,” the states would have free rein to kill literally hundreds of bears. Due to weak post-delisting monitoring, a major drop in the population would probably not be detected in time to reverse course.  Even if problems were detected, would be no binding mechanisms to correct them. More on this later.

What We Need to Keep Fighting About: Climate Change and Dead Bears

Because the hearing focused narrowly on procedural and jurisdictional issues, the most critical and immediate threats to Yellowstone’s bears — climate change and unsustainable bear deaths — did not come up, although the Court could consider these issues given that they are amply covered in written briefing materials.

This Court is no stranger to the threats posed to Yellowstone’s grizzlies by climate change. In fact, climate change had been front and center in litigation over a previous attempt to delist Yellowstone grizzlies in 2007.  The 9th Circuit Court upheld a 2009 order by District Judge Donald Molloy to reinstate ESA protections on the grounds that the Service had failed to consider the impacts of the climate-driven collapse of whitebark pine – and had even lied about the severity of the problem.

As I listened to the hearing last week, I could not help but reflect on the previous 9th Circuit hearing during 2009. For me, a highlight from that earlier give and take was a question posed by Judge Susan Graber: “Isn’t it true that female grizzlies produce fewer cubs after years of poor whitebark pine seeds?”

True indeed – and the kind of question that you would expect a mother to ask, not to mention someone invested in understanding the science relevant to grizzly bears. It was also true that, by 2009, a mountain pine beetle outbreak unleashed by a warming climate had killed over 70% of Yellowstone’s whitebark pine, making every year a poor year for seed crops.

These forests have continued to succumb to beetles and an introduced pathogen called white pine blister rust, while the terrible consequences have become increasingly clear. Pepin’s dismissal of any negative effects arising from loss of whitebark pine was hardly surprising given that the government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars during the past ten years attempting to paper over the threat posed to grizzlies by climate change.

Since losing in court, government researchers funded by the Service have produced more than a dozen narrowly focused publications with an overt partisan spin designed to bolster the case for delisting. Virtually all of this research relied on impenetrable models, flawed assumptions, faulty logic, and data that the government tenaciously hides. Their conclusions? Bears are omnivores (no kidding), and dandelions and ants are great substitutes for calorie-rich pine seeds. (Really?)

Government models notwithstanding, grizzlies have not been faring well. Resourceful bears have been compensating for the losses of pine seeds by seeking out other high-calorie foods, largely in the form of meat. In a trend I would not have predicted a decade ago, bears are increasingly predating on cows and scavenging elk meat left by big game hunters. Learning that the sound of a gunshot can be a dinner bell, bears are mixing it up with hunters in contests that grizzlies typically lose. Today, conflicts with hunters and livestock producers have replaced conflicts over garbage and human attractants as the leading causes of grizzly bear deaths.

Shattering Records of Grizzly Deaths

The death toll reflects these changes. Between 2015 and 2018 grizzly bear deaths shattered previous records — in a population that has been flatlined for nearly 20 years. What is particularly disturbing is that in 2018 eleven deaths were listed as “Under Investigation” for possible poaching. This unprecedented spike occurred just one year after Yellowstone grizzlies were delisted. As has been documented elsewhere, removal of protections was perhaps construed by some people as tacit permission to unleash a personal vendetta against bears.

Not surprisingly, the deaths exceeded the government’s thresholds of allowable mortality during 2015-2018. Mortality limits are one of the very few standards that were included in the Service’s 2017 delisting rule — and it matters given that excessive human-caused deaths helped land the bear on the endangered species list in the first place.

According to the delisting rule, if allowable limits are breached two years in a row, bear managers are supposed to do something. But they have not even admitted to a problem.

Interestingly, starting in 2015, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, charged with keeping mortality records, stopped reporting on whether thresholds were breached. You can figure this out for yourself by scrutinizing the Study Team’s annual reports, but it’s complicated. The point is that managers may have no clue they have a problem.

In fact, that seems to be the case. At a recent meeting of Yellowstone grizzly bear managers, a Committee charged with investigating how human-grizzly bear conflicts might be reduced erroneously claimed that “grizzly mortalities are below threshold.”

As numbers of grizzly bear deaths mount, the population is at a tipping point.  And our climate will almost certainly continue to warm, with worsening consequences for bears. Models show that we are likely to lose army cutworm moths, another staple food for Yellowstone grizzlies that has, for now, picked up some of the slack left by dead whitebark pine. Moths rely on alpine flower nectar, but as tundra migrates off the top of the mountains during the next century, moth habitat will disappearBerries are expected to decline too. These losses will likely prompt grizzlies to continue foraging closer to people, with predictable results.

Although the 9th Circuit may not rule on these issues, the fight over climate change and its impacts on bears will not end any time soon.

What Could Have Been: Adequate Regulatory Mechanisms

During the hearing I found myself staring at Chief Judge Sidney Thomas’ mug shot on the Court’s home page and thinking about his role ten years ago in the decision to keep grizzlies protected. With Judge Graber he had served on the panel that upheld Judge Donald Molloy’s finding regarding whitebark pine. However, two out of the three judges on the panel (Graber and Tallman) over-turned Molloy’s finding that post-delisting regulatory mechanisms were not adequate to maintain the population because they were not binding.

In dissenting with his colleagues, Judge Thomas wrote: “There is not a single federal or state law or regulation that provides a means for enforcing the [Conservation] Strategy’s mortality standards. Rather, if the grizzly population becomes threatened, the agency is to review the situation and call a committee meeting. And that only occurs if the mortality limits are exceeded for at least two years.

The Service’s reliance on voluntary action is contrary to law. … Good intentions are not rules of law. Unenforceable aspirational goals are not regulatory mechanisms. Promises to monitor, review, and convene committees do not satisfy the statutory requirement.”

He agreed with Molloy who wrote: “The majority of the regulatory mechanisms relied upon by the Service — the Conservation Strategy, Forest Plan amendments, and state plans — depend on guidelines, monitoring, and promises, or good intentions for future action. Such provisions are not adequate regulatory mechanisms when there is no way to enforce them or to ensure that they will occur.”

Molloy also took aim at the government’s “damn the torpedoes” approach to delisting – an approach that has not changed in the intervening decade.

As Matt Bishop described, post-delisting plans are still built on a quicksand of promises. I am not alone in thinking that the fight over grizzlies today would be less ferocious if the government had adopted binding regulations along with mechanisms to trigger corrections should problems arise.

Parenthetically, Molloy and Thomas are both Montanans — born, raised and educated in the state. Christensen, who was appointed to the seat on the United States District Court for the District of Montana that was vacated by Molloy, went to law school at the University of Montana and has lived in Montana since 1976. Could it be that living in a state where you are likely to rub shoulders with wildlife managers offers special insights into how grizzlies might be managed?

I am reminded of a day, years ago, when I overheard another federal judge, also from Montana, say to an attorney: “you know, I don’t know why you would ever trust the states with the grizzly.”

Touché.

Of Commonsense and The Court of Public Opinion

No matter what the 9th Circuit decides, this will not be the Court’s last word about the bear. After Pepin conceded that there would likely be opportunity for further judicial review, Judge Mary Schroeder dryly noted: “I am sure of that.”

Still, litigation is always a roll of the dice. For decades, we have been relying on lawyers to save the Yellowstone grizzly from doom. They have been remarkably successful, but leaning too hard on lawyers is a dangerous game – and why I have a knot in my stomach and my well-washed fingers crossed.

We have long needed to take this fight to the court of public opinion. To address the current crisis, we need to strengthen law enforcement and improve coexistence practices. There is no lack of ideas or expertise on this front. Since 1991 bear managers have produced numerous reports containing detailed recommendations, many related to reducing numbers of hunter- and livestock-related conflicts. Few have been comprehensively implemented, largely because of insufficient funding, courage, and political support.

Reducing conflicts between bears and people is not something we should be fighting over, but rather a commonsense win-win solution.

We can also do more politically. We can ask our representatives to support the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act sponsored by Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). The bill would ban trophy hunting and protect grizzlies for their ecological and cultural values. It would also guarantee Native American Tribes a role in conserving and managing the grizzlies that many Tribes consider to be sacred. Moreover, many Tribes have legal claim to lands where grizzlies could be recovered, including substantial areas that could reconnect existing populations.

Reform of state wildlife management is also increasingly important. The numbers of people who value wildlife for intrinsic reasons are climbing at the same time that hunter numbers are dropping. More and more, the public is demanding that state managers protect wildlife for its own sake, rather than for hunting. (I have written about this complicated issue here and here.) More practically, we need to provide financial and other incentives for state agencies to serve the broader public interest, not a well-heeled minority of hunters and ranchers who have been driving the states’ “damn the torpedoes” approach to grizzly bear management.

After thanking the bear’s devoted lawyers one more time, there is a lot we can do right now for grizzlies, including giving them more space and more compassion. We also need to make our governments accountable and worthy of our trust. Ultimately, how we manage grizzlies in their last refuges in Yellowstone and the Northern Rockies is a measure of who we are. Are our hearts big enough to keep grizzlies in our midst?

You can listen to the May 5th 9th Circuit court hearing here.

Grizzly bear protecting her cub is shot after biting hiker, Montana officials say

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Duration 7:48
How to handle bear encounters

Heading out on a hike? An Idaho Fish and Game officials provides tips for identifying black and grizzly bears and what to do when you encounter each. 

A grizzly bear trying to protect her cub attacked a hiker Wednesday, Montana wildlife officials say.

A man came face-to-face with a female grizzly bear and her cub while on a hike, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The grizzly bear attacked and bit the hiker’s thigh.

The hiker then shot and injured the bear with a pistol, officials say. The hiker was able to walk back to his house near Dupuyer and go to a hospital.

“The bear’s behavior indicated it attacked to protect her cub from a perceived threat posed by the hiker,” wildlife officials say.

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Officials searched for the bear into the night and began again the next morning with a helicopter and ground crews. Officials euthanized the bear once it was found, according to Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The cub was not with the bear when it was found, according to the Great Falls Tribune. Greg Lemon, a spokesperson for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told the news outlet that he did not know what the cub’s chances for survival were.

“Though it is still early in the spring, people recreating outdoors in Montana need to be prepared to encounter grizzly bears as they emerge from winter hibernation,” officials said. “This time of year, bears are hungry and looking for food, and often sows have cubs close at hand. Also, with bears expanding their population and habitat, they can often be found in prairie settings, well away from the mountains.”


A grizzly bear (not the one pictured) attacked a Montana hiker Wednesday, officials say. AP

Grizzlies, black and polar bears found together for 1st time

Polar bears, black bears, and grizzlies have been found together for the first time during a University of Saskatchewan research project in northern Manitoba.
 Polar bears, black bears, and grizzlies have been found together for the first time during a University of Saskatchewan research project in northern Manitoba. University of Saskatchewan / Supplied
University of Saskatchewan researchers said they made an unprecedented finding – all three species of North American bears in the same subarctic region.

The researchers documented polar bearsblack bears, and grizzlies in Wapusk National Park on the west coast of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man.

READ MORE: Draft plan says Nunavut has too many polar bears and climate change isn’t affecting them

“These sightings are consistent with expected ecological responses to the amplified effects of climate change on high-latitude ecosystems,” said Douglas Clark, a conservation scientist at the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability.

“Our observations add to growing evidence that grizzlies are substantially increasing their range in northern Canada.”

Researchers said they observed the bears between 2011 and 2017 using motion-activated cameras.

WATCH BELOW: Grizzly bears at Saskatoon zoo to begin 3rd hibernation

5 fun facts about grizzly bear hibernation at Saskatoon zoo

5 fun facts about grizzly bear hibernation at Saskatoon zoo

What was new in the observations, said Clark, were the grizzlies.

“It’s likely that they will benefit the most because they have been known to dominate the other two species elsewhere, for instance eating both black bears and polar bears, or displacing them,” he said.

However, Clark said, large black bears could have the upper hand when encountering a young grizzly, while smaller species of bears will modify their behaviour to avoid grizzlies.

Clark said the big question is how the interactions will affect bear conservation and management efforts.

He said the overlap could be due to climate change as bears seek out new or expanded habitats for food sources.

“This range overlap shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to any of these bears, but should be understood as an ecological response to environmental change.”

He added Wapusk is at the convergence of the boreal forest, tundra, and ocean ecosystems that are all changing quickly with climate change.

Some perspective on grizzlies and salmon

Brown bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park July 1, 2015 feast on sockeye salmon skin, which has a nutritious layer of fat.

Brown bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park July 1, 2015 feast on sockeye s

The stark images of malnourished grizzly bears on the coast of British Columbia, Canada, have garnered widespread international media attention. The photographs are difficult to view and strike a chord of deep concern in most people.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation has long advocated for a wildlife welfare ethic when it comes to the conservation and management of large carnivores. This approach becomes even more compelling when the life requisites, in this case wild salmon, of species such as coastal grizzlies are diminished as a result of human activities.

Much of the news coverage associated with the aforementioned situation has been linked to climate change, but this particular salmon run collapse is likely the result of a suite of influences, not the least of which is the failure to protect wild salmon in British Columbia from fishing pressure, habitat degradation, hatchery impacts, fish farms and more.

Wild salmon and grizzly bears have an intertwined relationship and the choices we make are inextricably linked to their fates. When salmon are plentiful in coastal streams, bears thrive and produce more cubs. Grizzlies also occur at higher densities and grow to larger sizes when salmon are abundant. Importantly, when salmon are plentiful, bears eat less of each fish, selecting the nutrient-rich brains and eggs and casting aside the remainder. These salmon remains then feed other animals, scavengers and fertilize the adjacent streamside zone. Thus, abundant salmon boosts the amount and value of food for bears, as well as transfers more nutrients and energy to other wild consumers.

In contrast, when salmon are scarce, grizzlies produce fewer cubs, if any, and eat more of each individual fish. Less discarded salmon enters the surrounding ecosystem with diminished benefits for other wildlife, plants, and less visible organisms such as fungi, algae, and insects. Commercial salmon fisheries typically extract 50% or more of the salmon bound for rivers, bears and forests. When the number of salmon returning to spawn from their ocean migration is variable, fishery managers favor the short-term benefit of harvest, even when salmon abundance is low and even if it means forgoing larger harvests in the future. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans manages for spawner persistence, not for healthy, abundant spawning runs.

Despite the knowledge that many species depend on salmon, humans have never managed fisheries with wildlife in mind.

Contemporary thinking in conservation science instructs salmon management to include the bears, whales and other wildlife that have an evolutionary reliance on the annual pulse of nutrients and food energy delivered via spawning salmon. Even Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy recognizes the need for management to transcend salmon ‘production’ alone and consider the needs of terrestrial species.

For this policy to be consequential, however, it requires fisheries managers to consider bears and other wildlife by lowering catches and allowing more salmon to reach the rivers to spawn. Currently, humans engage in what ecologists call “exploitative competition,” — we capture salmon en route to spawning grounds before they can reach awaiting carnivores. Even salmon runs that spawn in protected watersheds and parks are subjected to exploitation by commercial fisheries. Often, these parks were created to protect species such as grizzlies, black bears and wolves. As such, we suspect that grizzly bears now receive a fraction of the salmon they evolved with, which ultimately manifests in population declines through repeated years of low birth rates.

In some areas, we believe it is time to establish truly protected salmon runs – runs that would be managed solely for their importance to wildlife and ecosystems. This would allow salmon to return to spawning grounds without encountering the nets and hooks of the Pacific salmon fleet. And those fish would then spawn in rivers that flow naturally without their watersheds logged, developed or otherwise impaired.

Of course, it is not just fishing nets and hooks that rob wildlife of their energy needs. Degraded freshwater and marine habitat, fish farms and disease, dams and diversions, hatcheries and genetic dilution, climate change and changing ocean conditions, all influence salmon abundance. Human generated impacts that reduce salmon abundance must be addressed. However, reducing, and in some cases eliminating, exploitation from fisheries would have an immediate, positive effect on coastal wildlife.

Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Misty MacDuffee is Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program Director and Paul Paquet is Raincoast’s senior scientist.

Island Voices: The evolutionary links between grizzlies and salmon

The stark images of malnourished grizzly bears on the coast of British Columbia have garnered widespread media attention. The photographs are difficult to view and strike a chord of deep concern in most people.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation has long advocated for a wildlife welfare ethic when it comes to the conservation and management of large carnivores. This approach becomes even more compelling when the life requisites, in this case wild salmon, of species such as coastal grizzlies are diminished as a result of human activities.

Much of the news coverage associated with the aforementioned situation has been linked to climate change, but this particular salmon-run collapse is likely the result of a suite of influences, not the least of which is the failure to protect wild salmon in B.C. from fishing pressure, habitat degradation, hatchery impacts, fish farms and more.

Wild salmon and grizzly bears have an intertwined relationship, and the choices we make are inextricably linked to their fates. When salmon are plentiful in coastal streams, bears thrive and produce more cubs. Grizzlies also occur at higher densities and grow to larger sizes when salmon are abundant.

Importantly, when salmon are plentiful, bears eat less of each fish, selecting the nutrient-rich brains and eggs and casting aside the remainder. These salmon remains then feed other animals, scavengers, and fertilize the adjacent streamside zone. Thus, abundant salmon boosts the amount and value of food for bears, as well as transfers more nutrients and energy to other wild consumers.

In contrast, when salmon are scarce, grizzlies produce fewer cubs, if any, and eat more of each individual fish. Less discarded salmon enters the surrounding ecosystem with diminished benefits for other wildlife, plants and less-visible organisms such as fungi, algae and insects. Commercial salmon fisheries typically extract 50 per cent or more of the salmon bound for rivers, bears and forests.

When the number of salmon returning to spawn from their ocean migration is variable, fishery managers favour the short-term benefit of harvest, even when salmon abundance is low and even if it means forgoing larger harvests in the future. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans manages for spawner persistence, not for healthy, abundant spawning runs.

Despite the knowledge that many species depend on salmon, fisheries have never been managed with wildlife in mind.

Whether its bears, wolves or whales, many coastal species have evolved to rely on annual returns of Pacific salmon. But how are the food needs of these animals considered in fisheries management or the benefits of salmon managed for coastal ecosystems? Bottom line: they aren’t.

Contemporary thinking in conservation science instructs salmon management to include the bears, whales and other wildlife that have an evolutionary reliance on the annual pulse of nutrients and food energy delivered via spawning salmon. Even Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy recognizes the need for management to transcend salmon “production” alone and consider the needs of terrestrial species.

For this policy to be consequential however, it requires fisheries managers to consider bears and other wildlife by lowering catches and allowing more salmon to reach the rivers to spawn. Currently, humans engage in what ecologists call “exploitative competition,” i.e. we capture salmon en route to spawning grounds before they can reach awaiting carnivores.

Even salmon runs that spawn in protected watersheds and parks are subjected to exploitation by commercial fisheries. Often, these parks were created to protect species such as grizzlies, black bears and wolves. As such, we suspect that grizzly bears now receive a fraction of the salmon they evolved with, which ultimately manifests in population declines through repeated years of low birth rates.

In some areas, we believe it is time to establish truly protected salmon runs — runs that would be managed solely for their importance to wildlife and ecosystems. This would allow salmon to return to spawning grounds without encountering the nets and hooks of the Pacific salmon fleet. And those fish would then spawn in rivers that flow naturally without their watersheds logged, developed or otherwise impaired.

Of course, it is not just fishing nets and hooks that rob wildlife of their energy needs. Degraded freshwater and marine habitat, fish farms and disease, dams and diversions, hatcheries and genetic dilution, climate change and changing ocean conditions, all influence salmon abundance. Human-generated impacts that reduce salmon abundance must be addressed. However, reducing, and in some cases eliminating, exploitation from fisheries would have an immediate, positive effect on coastal wildlife.

Chris Genovali is executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Misty MacDuffee is Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program director and Paul C. Paquet is Raincoast’s senior scientist.

The Grizzlies Are Coming

A grizzly bear
MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE, AND PARKS / AP
The Rolling Stone Ranch lies behind a cluster of deciduous trees on the open, undulating plains of Montana’s Blackfoot Valley. Its green barns sit just outside the tiny town of Ovando, which is home to about 80 residents. As a crisp autumn breeze swept by in early October, Jim Stone, the ranch’s owner, greeted me in front of his house with a firm handshake. From his kitchen, he gazed out the window overlooking the valley and gestured across Highway 200. “My neighbor has 13 grizzly bears on his property,” a 21,000-acre spread, he told me. Just two decades ago, that many bears would have been rare.

To protect their livestock from the booming bear population, many local cattle ranchers have installed electric fences. They require less maintenance than barbed wire does and are safer for migrating elk, Stone explained. Since improving his fencing, he no longer has to worry about grizzlies killing his cows and calves.

As grizzlies continue to expand their range in Montana, more communities will have to face the question of how to coexist with them. Strategies such as installing electric fences, distributing special garbage cans, and encouraging communities to share the lessons they learn can help. But the most effective solution may be one of the hardest to achieve: trust between rural landowners and government agencies.

Back in the early 1800s, there were more than 50,000 grizzlies in the Lower 48. But by 1975, after years of hunting and habitat destruction, the population had dwindled to fewer than 1,000, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. With federal protections in place, grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide in northwestern Montana have flourished. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 bears in the area, the largest population in the United States outside Alaska. As a result of this rebound, the federal government considered delisting the population, though that process is now paused in light of last year’s court decision to restore federal protections for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone.

But the grizzly boom has brought with it a rise in human-bear conflicts. In September, for example, four hunters were injured in three separate attacks in southwestern Montana. These encounters are bad news for the grizzlies as well: Last year, about 50 bears were killed or removed from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, a record high for Montana.

Nonprofits such as the Blackfoot Challenge, located in the Blackfoot Valley, are helping communities deal with these conflicts. Stone, who chairs the organization’s board of directors, has helped implement its three-pronged approach to managing grizzlies: building electric fences, moving dead livestock to designated compost plots, and employing range riders to protect cattle. All told, conflicts with grizzlies in the Blackfoot Valley dropped by 74 percent from 2003 to 2013, according to a 2017 case study on the Blackfoot Challenge.

But in the small town of Condon, in nearby Swan Valley, where tall conifers rather than rangelands dominate the landscape, the residents face different problems. One of the biggest challenges is teaching people how to manage backyard bear attractants, such as garbage cans and chicken coops, says Luke Lamar, the conservation director at the nonprofit Swan Valley Connections. The organization offers electric-fencing installation, bear-resistant garbage containers, property consultations, and educational events. Once a bear knows where to find free food, it tends to return to the area, Lamar says. “That cycle will most likely continue until the bear is caught and removed by agency bear managers or by other means, such as a resident shooting the bear.”

Communities have different reactions to grizzlies and may need different methods to manage them. Sara Halm, a graduate student at Idaho State University, is interviewing people who live in three Montana communities to learn how grizzlies impact their rural towns. Many locals are scared for their children, who can no longer play outside alone the way their parents once did. For some, electric fences help lessen that fear. But fences make other residents feel confined. “This is deeper than just an economic issue of protecting people’s livelihoods,” Halm says. People have to redefine their relationship with the environment and wildlife.


This post appears courtesy of  High Country News.

Experts project 72 grizzlies will die due to cattle conflicts

‘Really tough decision’ to authorize grazing where there’s chronic conflict, forest ranger says.

Federal wildlife officials foresee and have approved growing grizzly bear bloodshed on a sprawling complex of Bridger-Teton National Forest cattle grazing allotments recently permitted for the long haul.

The Bridger-Teton’s Pinedale District ranger, Rob Hoelscher, signed off in early October on a decision OK’ing the continuation of a historic grazing operation on 267 square miles of forestland that falls in the Upper Green and Gros Ventre river drainages. That decision instituted a number of minor changes, like giving the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association more flexibility in rotating its cows, tweaking utilization standards for vegetation heights and authorizing some new fencing.

A larger shift, however, is outlined in an accompanying document called a biological opinion, which estimates the federal action’s impact on a threatened or endangered species — in this case, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears. The updated overall estimate of grizzly bears that will be “incidentally taken” as a result of the Upper Green grazing, the April 2019 document says, is 72 bruins between the 2019 and 2028 grazing seasons.

Upper Green grazing

Phil McGinnis looks for cattle in one of the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association’s Bridger-Teton grazing allotments in 2016. Federal wildlife officials have authorized the incidental taking of up 72 grizzly bears in the area over the next 10 years.

“We had a number of conversations with the grizzly bear recovery coordinator and also with Wyoming Game and Fish,” said Nathan Darnall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deputy supervisor for Wyoming. “When we start talking numbers this large, we all have to pause for a second and ask if this number is sustainable.

“In looking at the grizzly population and looking at the future expansion of the population … we decided that this number, in concert with everything else, was sustainable,” he said.

The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population is estimated at around 700, though an undetermined number of Ursus arctos horribilis dwell on the fringes of the region outside where the species is carefully monitored.

“This is not going to jeopardize the population of bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Darnall said. “We’re not going to see numbers dipping below recovery levels, and we would still expect the population to increase.”

Darnall and his colleagues at Fish and Wildlife, who oversee grizzlies because they’re currently classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, produced the biological opinion.

The document points out that not all bears in the Upper Green cause trouble and that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has documented bears with territories in the allotments that haven’t killed cattle.

“Nonetheless, bear conflicts with livestock increased an average of 10 percent each year,” the opinion says. “We believe this trend is likely to continue within the action area. Within the last nine years 37 grizzly bears were lethally removed from the action area due to conflicts with livestock.”

The all-time high mark for lethal action taken in response to dead cows came in 2018, when Wyoming had jurisdiction over the species during the grazing season, didn’t need Fish and Wildlife authorization, and opted to kill eight depredating grizzlies.

The 72 grizzlies authorized for removal over the coming decade is a large increase from the most recent estimate, in 2014. That year the “take” was set at a maximum of 11 bears over any rolling three-year period.

Grizzly bear removals
Capture locations of grizzly bears removed due to livestock conflicts within the Upper Green Allotment Complex.

The 69-page document puts numbers to the rising rate of ursine-bovine conflict that led to the higher estimate. Although ranchers reported a relative lull this summer in the slaughter of both cattle and bears, since the turn of the century conflict has soared in the Upper Green as grizzly range has expanded and filled in that portion of the Bridger-Teton.

Between 2010 and 2018, Game and Fish and federal wildlife managers confirmed 527 conflicts, almost exclusively cattle that were killed or maimed. The majority, the document says, occurred in the last five years, and they took place “throughout the action area.”

The 1,112-square-mile “action area” assessed in the document is much larger than the actual allotments, taking into account grizzlies estimated to inhabit areas up to 7.5 miles away from the allotments. The more than 9,000 cow/calf pairs and few dozen horses permitted to graze the expansive rangeland have proven a big attractant, according to grizzly bear GPS collar data cited in the opinion. One bear captured after killing cattle on the allotments, grizzly No. 499, denned clear across the mighty Wind River Range, 24 miles away on the Wind River Reservation. Another Upper Green grizzly captured for research, bear No. 754, denned 29 miles away near the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park.

This iteration of Fish and Wildlife’s biological opinion for the Upper Green did not estimate the grizzly population in the “action area” surrounding the allotments. In 2013 the agency put the number at somewhere between 51 and 60 grizzlies.

Fourth-generation Upper Green stockman Albert Sommers, who helps run the Cattlemen’s Association, has tried and failed to change his grazing protocols in a way that reduces grizzly conflict. The operation pencils out, he’s told the News&Guide, only because of Wyoming compensation programs. In 2016 and 2017 Sommers worked with the conflict-reduction group People and Carnivores to test a herding technique that bunched up his bovines at night. It had “no effect on depredation,” the Fish and Wildlife’s opinion said, and was discontinued.

“I still go to conferences,” Sommers told the News&Guide this summer, “and listen to ideas.”

Not all parties paying attention to the chronic conflict in the Upper Green are satisfied with a gruesome status quo that’s forecasted to worsen. Center for Biological Diversity employee Andrea Santarsiere, of Victor, Idaho, said that the Bridger-Teton grazing complex is “good habitat” that’s turned into a “population sink” bound to continually attract more bears, resulting in more conflict.

“It’s just a cyclical problem that they’re not going to be able to resolve without taking some conservation measures on the ground,” Santarsiere said.

Grizzly conflict map
The map compares grizzly bear/cattle conflicts in the Upper Green Allotment Complex between 2010-14 and between 2015-2018.

Mandatory conservation measures in the Bridger-Teton’s decision, she said, are “lacking terribly.”

“Pretty much everything that we asked for was ignored or significantly watered down,” she said.

During the “objection process” with the forest in early 2018, Santarsiere tried to make it mandatory for range riders to carry bear spray, but the language was turned into a recommendation. It was a similar story, she said, with carcass removal requirements that the conservation community sought.

“They have to move carcasses under the new decision if they are too close to roads where the public might be, which protects the public,” Santarsiere said. “But that’s not doing a lot to protect grizzly bears, because all they have to do is move them a little ways from the road.”

Hoelscher, the Bridger-Teton district ranger, said authorizing the mostly business-as-usual Upper Green grazing plans was a “really difficult decision.” He acknowledged that the regulations relating to grizzly conflict are largely unchanged.

“The permittees as well as the state have done a lot of trying to figure out what works, and what doesn’t,” Hoelscher said, “and they’re pretty much already doing about all they can do.”

“I feel it’s very important to maintain the lifestyles and the industry here locally for the permittees,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what comes out of this all.”

Santarsiere, who is an environmental attorney, said she’s considering her options.

Washington state considers importing B.C. grizzlies to re-establish bears in North Cascades

The translocation of bears is likely years away as Washington state and B.C. officials are in the early stage of talks about how that would work, and the province said First Nations have to be consulted first.

Updated: October 15, 2019

The U.S. has dusted off a plan to repopulate the North Cascades area of Washington state with grizzly bears by translocating dozens of Canadian grizzlies to the U.S.

The U.S. parks and fish and wildlife departments are accepting public comments about its environmental impact statement on a grizzly bear restoration plan that could see dozens of young, mostly female, bears flown into North Cascades National Park.

Conservationists in both countries support the plan to establish a grizzly bear population in the vast park that’s on the other side of the border from Manning Park, and where the last sighting of a grizzly was in 1996.

“It would be great,” said Joe Scott, international program director for Conservation Northwest. “It would be a wonderful conservation success story for both the U.S. and B.C.”

The approval process in the U.S. would take at least another year and it would take several years of gradually introducing the bears stateside, about 25 bears over five to 10 years, before the grizzlies ideally would be self-sustaining, he said.

The bears would likely be imported from B.C. because the bears should be from a similar ecosystem (berry eating as opposed to salmon eating, for instance) and would likely be flown in by copter to ensure that they’re delivered a “fair distance from humans, for obvious reasons,” said Jack Oelfke, chief of natural and cultural resources for North Cascades National Park.

He said conservationists and the public have been supportive of bringing grizzlies back to the North Cascades. But some are opposed, such as the ranching industry.

B.C. government has had a representative on one of the U.S. committees contributing to the recovery plan in the past, and supports efforts to restore grizzlies to Washington state.

The province and the state are in the “early planning stages” to determine if grizzlies can be translocated from B.C., and B.C. First Nations have to be consulted, a spokesperson from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said in an email.

The ministry said, generally, the province’s grizzly bear population is healthy and stable at around 15,000 bruins.

“The province will be collaborating with Indigenous Peoples in the near future to draft a provincial grizzly bear management plan,” it said.

“We do have bears to spare,” said Nicholas Scapillati, executive director of the Grizzly Bear Foundation. But not in Canada’s North Cascades grizzly bear population unit, where it’s estimated fewer than 10 bears live.

Two years ago, B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer, in a report on B.C.’s grizzly bear conservation efforts, said one of the goals of the province’s conservation strategy was to lead the way in international recovery efforts, but that the U.S. was leading the way. The report also said, “it may be that recovery actions have been too little, too late” for the North Cascades’ grizzly population in Canada.

Scapillati said the bears would likely have to come from elsewhere in B.C. If the U.S. recovery plan was successful, it could help the North Cascades’ population recover in Canada, conservationists said.

The U.S. grizzly recovery study was first announced in 2014, halted in 2017, and then restarted last year. The Americans have until Oct. 24 to comment on the plan.

https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/washington-state-considers-importing-b-c-grizzlies-to-re-establish-bears-in-north-cascades?fbclid=IwAR2wcv3BBfx8oXg0f0tJ5iUSvsh03sKZQ5leP22pHVAEBe-3OD5lsYhDg9Y

Grizzly experts want research into emaciated bears photographed on B.C. coast

Photos of bears concerned scientists, who said they could be suffering due to a poor salmon return. There could be other explanations.

Starving bear walks along the riverside in Thompson Sound on the west coast. Photo: Rolf Hicker. ROLF HICKER / PNG

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Grizzly experts disturbed by photos of emaciated bears in Knight Inlet are calling for research to determine why they are suffering.

Photos of a sow and two cubs taken by wildlife photographer and tour guide Rolf Hicker raised alarms for some scientists, who said the bears were likely suffering due to an abysmal Pacific salmon return this year. Federal fisheries experts have pointed to climate change as the main reason for the poor return, and salmon are crucial to coastal grizzly bears’ diets.

Longtime grizzly researchers say a salmon shortage is the most obvious explanation for why the bears in Hickers’ photos are suffering, but said there could be other factors.

Dr. Ken Macquisten, a wildlife veterinarian and managing director for the Grouse Mountain wildlife refuge, said he was shocked by the photos. Had only a single bear been suffering, he would have questioned whether it had broken teeth or an intestinal blockage.

“But multiple bears would tend to point to some common reason, and a lack of food would be top of the suspect list, in my mind,” said Macquisten, who is a director for the Grizzly Bear Foundation.

Starving grizzly bear in Hoeya Sound. Photo: Rolf Hicker ROLF HICKER / PNG

Macquisten said grizzly bear researchers are concerned about B.C.’s salmon supply. The fish are crucial to west coast bears during their hyperphagic stage before hibernation, when an adult will eat 50,000-60,000 calories of food and gain three to four pounds each day. They are omnivores and also typically eat whitebark pine nuts, insects and berries.

But if they don’t eat enough before hibernation, they will wake up early and be forced to search for food during winter when it is scarce, he said. They could die of starvation.

“Because they can range over large areas, typically the bears will be able to go to somewhere else where the food is, so it’s a bit surprising why these (photographed) bears are in such a state,” he said. “Either they haven’t been able to find food over a wide area or they haven’t been moving.”

But Macquisten urged caution before drawing the conclusion that a salmon shortage is to blame, and said he hopes someone will locate one of the suffering grizzly bears to determine the exact cause.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said provincial biologists can’t confirm why the sow in Hicker’s photo appears to be in such poor shape.

The biologists don’t know its history and whether age, dental issues, injuries, or providing for cubs contributed to its state, the ministry said in an emailed reply to questions.

“The number of bears on the coast are stable to increasing and this often means more competition for resources,” the ministry said. “If salmon runs in the area are lower than expected, this will have an added effect and bears may have to travel further to find food.”

Government representatives are working with the Mamalilikulla First Nation to monitor the welfare of wildlife in the area.

The B.C. government has estimated 15,000 grizzly bears are in the province and said roughly 340 die each year of human-related causes. Of the 56 grizzly populations in B.C., nine are classified as threatened.

Dr. Cole Burton, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources Management at the University of B.C., also called for research into whether a poor salmon return and climate change are impacting the wellbeing of some bear populations.

“If we’re concerned about grizzly bears and how they might be responding to these changes, then we should try and support some more study on that, some more monitoring that’s tied to our management actions,” Burton said.

He wouldn’t jump to the conclusion, from the photos, that the suffering grizzly bears represent more widespread suffering, he said.

“It’s certainly consistent with these ideas around a reduction in salmon,” said Burton, who is the Canada Research Chair in Terrestrial Mammal Conservation. “But on its own, I don’t think it provides much evidence of the bigger-picture trends.”

Burton said that grizzly bear populations in B.C. are generally doing okay, but not thriving, mainly due to habitat loss caused by development and roadbuilding.

The government’s ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting in 2017 may have increased the number of bears’ competing for food, Burton said. Prior to the ban, an average of 297 grizzly bears were legally killed by hunters annually, according to provincial data.

“I’m not saying that that’s what we’re seeing here, but certainly we would want to know about the population,” Burton said.

Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar at the University of Alberta, has been working with grizzly bears for six years and is currently researching their population dynamics.

A poor salmon run is a “reasonable” explanation for the sow to be malnourished, Lamb said. But when salmon populations are low, grizzlies tend to move elsewhere in search of berries, and he wondered whether the bears in the photographs have that option.

“I think a couple of pictures don’t give us that larger population context,” he said.

Lamb said climate models for grizzly populations in B.C.’s Interior suggest that berries and other diet staples could, in fact, become more abundant as the climate changes.

“As far as food and climate change for bears, it’s not immediately concerning,” he said. “There’s undoubtedly going to be winners and losers in climate change, and I think it just so happens that some of those key berry species are going to be winners.”

Bryce Casavant, a former conservation officer who is now conservation policy analyst with non-profit conservation organization Pacific Wild, said Hicker’s photos serves as a reminder that human behaviour can have an impact on wildlife.

“What we do know is there is food scarcity, currently, within the Great Bear Rainforest and coastal regions of B.C., which is causing problems for grizzly bears,” said Casavant, a PhD candidate at Royal Roads University.

“Salmon runs have declined, their ability to access natural food sources has decline. Habitat loss is a serious contributing factor to grizzly bear population recovery and stability.”