Grand Teton National Park Visitors Playing With Fire By Feeding Bears

Some Grand Teton National Park visitors reportedly were feeding bears this week/NPS file

Some visitors at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming are playing with fire by feeding bears. For now, park staff have temporarily closed the Signal Mountain Summit Road and surrounding area.

What species of bears were being feed by several visitors this past Tuesday evening wasn’t known, but park visitors and staff were bluff charged by a female grizzly with two cubs along the Signal Mountain Summit Road.

“Feeding wildlife is irresponsible, dangerous, and illegal, and we take these incidents very seriously,” said acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail. “Please share any information about the feeding of wildlife immediately to a nearby park ranger, visitor center, or by calling Park Watch at 307-739-3677.”

If you have a video of visitors feeding bears, share it with National Parks Traveler or by attaching below as a comment.

Bears are protective of their feeding areas, which include ripening berry patches. All visitors are required to maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and always carry bear spray, as well as make noise and travel in groups.

Bears that obtain human food may lose their natural fear of humans and become dependent on human food. As a result, they may become aggressive toward people and have to be killed. The maximum penalty for feeding park wildlife is a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Bears, both grizzlies and black, are extremely powerful and dangerous animals.

Every visitor who comes to Grand Teton has the unique opportunity to view bears in their natural habitat. With that opportunity comes the responsibility to protect themselves and the bears, say park staff. It is up to everyone to keep bears wild and alive. Please report any bear activity or human-bear interactions to a nearby park ranger or visitor center.

The proper storage of food items and responsible picnicking are vitally important in bear country. Picnickers should only have immediate use items out so that if a bear approaches, food items can be quickly gathered and the opportunity for the bear to receive a food reward is removed. Visitors should store food and scented items in bear-resistant food lockers that are located throughout the park or in a hard-sided vehicle. Do not burn waste in fire rings or leave litter in campsites.

Grizzly and black bears thrive in Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Jr., Memorial Parkway. Visitors may encounter a bear anywhere and at any time. Some of the most popular areas and trails pass through excellent bear habitat.

Comment period reopened for grizzly restoration proposal

Comment period reopened for grizzly restoration proposal

Draft plan for N. Cascades still under review

If you’ve never commented about the possibility of reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades, or have already commented but have something more to say, now’s the time.

The National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said last week that they are reopening the public comment period on the Draft North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for 90 days, through Oct. 24.

The action revives an on-and-off process that began in 2014 under the Obama administration, to consider if and how grizzlies should be reintroduced to an area that was once their native habitat and which now supports only a few of the animals.

A draft EIS on the restoration plan was released in early 2017, followed by public comment periods and public meetings, including one in Winthrop in February 2017. More than 126,000 comments and correspondence have been received on the draft EIS. The overwhelming majority supported the reintroduction proposal. In late 2017, the process was put on hold.

In August 2018, the Department of the Interior, NPS and USFWS said they intended to further evaluate input about the proposal, which meant that completion of a final EIS was further delayed. At that time, the federal agencies did not provide a timeframe for further evaluation.

Fourth District Congressman Dan Newhouse said last week, in a press release, that “I remain opposed to the transfer of grizzly bears to the North Cascades on behalf of my constituents, who would be directly affected. Introducing an additional apex predator to an area that is populated by families and livestock is extremely concerning, but I am glad the Department of the Interior is seeking real, local public comments on this issue. I encourage the people of Central Washington to make their voices heard loud and clear so the Administration will end this misguided proposal once and for all.”

Long-time habitat

A study by the NPS, released in 2018, turned up a significant body of evidence showing that grizzly bears roamed the North Cascades for thousands of years.

The EIS proposes three alternatives for re-establishing a population of 200 grizzly bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE), which includes 9,800 square miles in Washington state and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia. The area includes the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (including the Methow Valley Ranger District), North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

In addition to the three proposals to restore grizzlies to the North Cascades, the draft EIS includes a required “no action” alternative that would maintain the status quo.

Although the actual number of grizzlies in the NCE is not known, it is “highly unlikely that the area contains a viable grizzly bear population,” the original draft EIS stated. There have been only four confirmed detections of grizzly bears in the greater NCE in the past decade, all of which occurred in British Columbia and may comprise only two bears. There is no confirmed evidence of grizzly bears in the U.S. portion of the NCE since 1996, according to the draft EIS.

The alternatives, as summarized in a newsletter from FWS and NPS, are:

• Alternative A – Continuation of Existing Grizzly Bear Management (no action).

• Alternative B –  Ecosystem Evaluation Restoration. NPS and FWS would implement an ecosystem evaluation approach to grizzly bear restoration, providing for release of up to 10 grizzly bears at a single remote site on NPS or U.S. Forest Service lands in the NCE over two consecutive summers. The bears would be monitored for two years to evaluate habitat use and instances of conflicts with humans. In the fourth year a decision would be made regarding how restoration would proceed during subsequent years. That could involve repeating the release of an additional 10 bears, or a decision to transition to Alternative C.

• Alternative C – Incremental Restoration. Five to seven bears would be released into the NCE each year over a period of five to 10 years, with a goal of establishing an initial population of 25 grizzly bears. Bears would be released at multiple remote sites on national park and forest lands, After an initial population of 25 grizzly bears has been reached, additional bears would likely be released every few years. This alternative would be expected to achieve the goal of 200 grizzly bears within 60 to 100 years.

• Alternative D – Expedited Restoration. The lead federal agencies would expedite grizzly bear restoration by releasing additional grizzly bears into the NCE over time, until the restoration goal of 200 bears is reached. This alternative would be expected to achieve that goal within about 25 years.

How to comment

Comments previously submitted on the Draft EIS during the public comment period that was open from Jan. 12, 2017, through April 28, 2017, will be considered. You can view the Draft EIS online, and offer comments on it, at You can also mail or hand-deliver comments to: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284.

Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or any other way. Bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.

Can We Feel Secure about De-Listing the Grizzly?


Yellowstone grizzly. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

We’ve recently seen reports that the grizzly population is growing, expanding its range, and getting into trouble when its expansion takes it up against the human population. True enough, but it’s only part of the story.

A recent federal Biological Assessment on grizzlies’ current situation says the human population in Montana has also grown, and “at a relatively high rate during the past few decades, and growth is expected to continue.”

What we see here is a collision course for two expanding populations, with consequences for the future of bears – and much else.

Grizzlies have seen this sort of thing before. “The death knell for the grizzly in the Southwest was tolled not by a church bell but by a train whistle,” Arizona biologist David Brown explains in his book, The Grizzly in the Southwest. The trains brought “an ever-increasing influx of settlers, who eventually penetrated to the remotest corners of the region.”

Grizzlies will likely see something similar this time around. The Biological Assessment says “Increasing residential development and demand for recreational opportunities can result in habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and increases in grizzly bear-human conflicts.”

The Assessment does admit that, “These impacts are likely to intensify.” But doubt surfaces when the Assessment claims that, “appropriate residential planning…can help mitigate these impacts.”

Alas, “appropriate residential planning” is left vague, undefined, amounting to little more than wishful thinking, even though the Assessment admits that development “has the potential to have cumulative adverse effects on the NCDE grizzly bear population.”

The Assessment claims that, “Monitoring of population status will provide a mechanism to identify areas of concern so that appropriate preventive or corrective actions can be taken.” Again, the appropriate actions are left undefined, leaving a big hole in hope for lasting grizzly recovery. And it’s far from clear how monitoring the situation leads to these undefined actions.

On the climate front, the Assessment claims that impact on habitat made of plant species or plant communities “ is not possible to foresee with any level of confidence.” But the closely related Draft Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy says, “Most grizzly bear biologists in the U.S. and Canada do not expect habitat changes predicted under climate change scenarios to directly threaten grizzly bears.”

These expectations omit important evidence on climate and habitat.

For just one example of evidence on climate effects on habitat, scientists have found that “suitable days for plant growth disappear under projected climate change.”

That said, even if risks for habitat wouldn’t threaten grizzlies directly, a 2008 article in Science reported that “Direct effects of climatic warming can be understood through fatal decrements in an organism’s performance in growth, reproduction, foraging, immune competence, behaviors and competitiveness.”

A 2013 article in the Journal of Animal Ecology confirmed that analysies, reporting that, “  … organisms have a physiological response to temperature, and these responses have important consequences …. biological rates and times (e.g. metabolic rate, growth, reproduction, mortality and activity) vary with temperature.”

These important risks go unmentioned in the Assessment and Draft Conservation Strategy.

So, how bad can heat’s impact get? The authors of a report in the distinguished science journal Nature conclude that, “Our results suggest that it doesn’t make sense to dismiss the most-severe global warming projections.”

The Assessment mentions drought as a factor in fire, but omits mention of evidence that drought can force wildlife into (expanding) human-dominated areas. All in all, risks from heat and drought are largely and wrongly omitted from the Assessment or the Draft Conservation Strategy.

Given these documents’ vagueness and omissions, it’s not easy to feel secure about proposals delisting the grizzlies of the lower-48 states.

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Grizzly bears put back on endangered list in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced on Tuesday that it has reinstated grizzly bears on the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).

In a press release from the USFWS, the service said on June 30, 2017, it announced the establishment of a population of GYE grizzly bears and determined those bears no longer met the definition of threatened. USFWS subsequently removed the GYE population of grizzlies from the list of threatened and endangered wildlife.

Six lawsuits were filed in federal court against that move. A federal judge in Montana ordered USFWS to put the bears back on the list in a September 2018 court order. The relisting announced Tuesday was taken to comply with the order, according to USFWS.

Grizzly bears remain protected under the Endangered Species Act in the five other ecosystems where they are primarily found: the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, the Selkirk Ecosystem, the North Cascades Ecosystem, and the Bitterroot Ecosystem.

The relisting of GYE grizzlies as endangered stops any plans for a grizzly bear hunt in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming.

Group wants grizzly bears restored to more US states

The federal government should be looking at restoring grizzly bears throughout the Rocky Mountains from Arizona and California to Washington, according to a lawsuit filed by the Centers for Biological Diversity on Thursday.

And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must also update grizzly recovery plans it hasn’t touched since 1993, the suit alleges. The environmental group filed the case with U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula. Last fall, Christensen vacated the service’s attempt to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from federal Endangered Species Act protection. The federal government has appealed that ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“They just want to point to success in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, remove protections and wash their hands of grizzly bears,” CBD attorney Collette Adkins said on Thursday. “We’re saying you can only achieve true recovery if you look at these other areas and evaluate whether those are places grizzlies can recover. We want the Fish and Wildlife Service to take a look at least at the places it identified itself in the 1993 plan, and do what they promised — evaluate those additional areas.”

Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly recovery coordinator Hilary Cooley said the service had received the lawsuit, but had no further comment on Thursday.

The grizzly bear received threatened status under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Before the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805, an estimated 50,000 grizzlies inhabited most of the states west of North Dakota and south to Mexico. Due to loss of habitat and predator-removal efforts, only a few hundred grizzlies remained on about 2% of their historical range by the 1970s in the lower 48 states.

Today, about 2,000 grizzlies roam remote parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, with most concentrated around Yellowstone National Park and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem between Missoula and Glacier National Park. The FWS 1993 recovery plan also monitors small grizzly populations in Montana’s Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem and Idaho’s Selkirk Ecosystem, as well as large swaths of the Bitterroot Ecosystem along the Montana-Idaho border and the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington that have no known resident grizzlies.

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The CBD lawsuit claims that the 1993 plan stated the service would evaluate within five years the potential for grizzly recovery in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. In a 2011 update, the service stated “other areas throughout the historic range of the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states should be evaluated to determine their habitat suitability for grizzly bear recovery.” Those other areas included parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington.

The Fish and Wildlife Service created a plan to reintroduce grizzlies as an experimental population in the Bitterroots in 2000, but the project was never funded and drew opposition from both people who argued the bears threatened their safety and people who said the plan didn’t extend enough protection for the bears. A similar reintroduction plan is under consideration for the North Cascades Ecosystem.

The suit also alleges the Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to produce five-year updates on the grizzly’s recovery status, which the service hasn’t done since 2011. While CBD acknowledges the service updated its recovery plans for the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems in advance of attempts to delist those populations, the group maintains the service has to include the whole continental United States recovery area. Adkins said CBD petitioned the service to update the plan in 2014, but was refused.

“There are other areas in the West that fall in the historic range of grizzly bears where they could be reintroduced and do very well,” CBD attorney Andrea Santarsiere said on Thursday. “We know they’re important carnivores that have benefits on ecosystems, so if that reintroduction is successful, we would see some ecosystem benefits. It’s not like we’re proposing to introduce grizzly bears into city centers. We’re talking about wild landscapes where conflict is very low or nonexistent, and areas where they’ve survived in the past.”

Felicia’s Fate: The Trials of a Grizzly Bear Mom

June 26, 2019


David Mattson

Grizzly bears reside at a symbolic nexus that seems to relentlessly spawn conflict. Almost invariably, this conflict organizes around incidents that catalyze a mix of fear, anger, grief, and empathy—all inescapably configured by peoples’ mental constructs. There is the reality of bears, and then there are our contested inventions of who they are, what they should be, and what it all means. More complicating yet, grizzly bear-centric conflicts often arise from different ideas about how we should treat them and what that means for the institutions we create to manage ourselves.

Such seems to be the case with an incident unfolding around a grizzly bear called Felicia by her admirers, and #863 by those captive to the instrumentalizing impulses of wildlife management.

Who is Felicia?

Felicia is a tragic figure who could have easily been a character in classic Greek literature or a Victorian novel. She is a bear’s version of the young woman who got in trouble with the law and ended up a single mom in a rough neighborhood trying to scrape together a living while fending off predatory males. If that isn’t cause for Freudian psychological projection, I’m not sure what is.

Insofar as the facts of Felicia’s life are concerned, we know a few, but with ample scope for imaginative invention. We know nothing about her cub-hood, whether nurturing, traumatic, or indifferent. She first shows up in our human records as a (probably) newly-independent 2-year-old on the Shoshone National Forest wandering near human habitations eating human foods in an area with a long history of negligence on the part of human residents. In response, Wyoming Game & Fish (WGF) managers trapped her and a sibling, and then hauled them 75 miles as the crow flies to a location east of Grand Teton National Park. A year later she was trapped yet again by researchers roughly 20 miles east of where she was released the year before. So, by the time she was 3-years-old she had already been trapped, drugged, and handled by humans twice, and was probably not only tolerant of people, but also inclined to seek us out as a source of food. Not an auspicious start.

Felicia apparently lived out her remaining two adolescent years in or near the Blackrock Creek drainage on the Bridger-Teton National Forest below Togwotee Pass, probably never too far from Highway 26, the main connector between Moran Junction and points east. During winter of 2019 she gave birth as a 6-year-old to her first litter of cubs in the confines of a den, after which she emerged to face the considerable challenges confronting a first-time mom trying to keep two cubs alive in a neighborhood teeming with humans and other bears. By May she had lost her first cub. By early June she was being hounded by at least one male bear intent on breeding. For the boar, her surviving cub was at best an impediment to his purposes. By late June, she had apparently abandoned her last cub in the midst of on-going pursuit by these one or more males. When last seen, the cub was frantically trying to reunite with its mom—destined to starve or be killed by a predator if unsuccessful.

Enter Humans

Felicia has probably never been very far from people most of her life. She has been observed by a number of people on a number of occasions, which axiomatically means she’s been near people more often than she’s been seen. More important to this story, she has been near and even on Highway 26 since leaving her den this spring with cubs—literally walking down the highway centerline at times. As described by many, she has seemed “frantic” and “inexperienced.” Among other things, she has predictably incurred substantial risk of being killed by vehicles travelling at 65 mph along Highway 26, and may have even been hit by a car mid-June.

As predictably, she and her cubs have attracted great crowds of tourists, gawkers, photographers, and fans intent on seeing a grizzly bear, getting a killer photo of a grizzly, keeping track of her well-being, or just simply being part of the scene. The result has been emerging roadside mayhem—in the midst of cars and semis intent on making time between Dubois and Moran Junction.

Hence, with the certitude of a Greek drama, managers from Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGF) arrived trying to “get on top of the situation.” The first apparent intervention by WGF was what, at best, could charitably be described as an ad hoc effort to haze her away from the highway. More helpfully, and thanks largely to the efforts of her advocates, Wyoming Department of Transportation (WDOT) rapidly deployed temporary signs that reduced the speed limit near where she was active to 40 mph—which could have saved her life if she was indeed hit by a car.

Since then, the crowds have grown, not diminished, at the same time that the comparative absence of people with authority to manage the situation, notably from WGF or the US Forest Service, has raised questions about motives, resources, and competence on the part of involved bureaus. Rumors have also surfaced about impromptu efforts by private individuals with suspect motives to haze Felicia and her surviving cub, while tensions mount along with odds of some additional tragic outcomes, not only for Felicia, but also for an over-aggressive photographer.

And, off stage, the passion, stridency, and even vitriol have mounted. Felicia’s partisans have promulgated passionate pleas for some sort of remedy. In response, Trumpian thugs have responded with profanity, video clips featuring their middle finger, and the message that most or all grizzlies should be killed. In some bizarre quadrant of it all, one of WGF’s putative public servants, an out-of-control Brian DeBolt, likewise accosts a photographer at a service station saying “f..k you photographers.” Little if any of this is about Felicia or her cub. Most is about human emotions and root symbolic stakes.

Sound like a Greek tragedy? Probably should.

A Classic Profile

Felicia fits a classic profile that typifies a non-trivial number of female grizzlies I’ve either personally known or have been acquainted with from afar. These females take up residence near people, probably as early as their adolescent years, largely because it is a space safe from the hazards and harassments of other bears, especially large potentially violent boars. This attraction to people, highways, and homes only strengthens with birth of their first cubs. Adult male grizzlies will kill cubs as means of triggering estrus in females that would otherwise be available for breeding only once every three years. Moreover, with prerogative to any resources they want, these males tend to preempt backcountry habitats and avoid annoying and potentially lethal humans.

The upshot is that areas near people become a figurative shield against predatory boars for females trying to find food and keep their offspring alive. These females then perversely incur the perhaps less obvious hazards of living near people and, in the process, become the centerpiece of a roadside circus, with unpredictable consequences for everybody involved, although predictable mounting exasperation for wildlife managers.

Roadside grizzly bear moms end up being between the proverbial rock and hard place, hemmed in by lethal boars and mobs of people. No wonder these mother bears often seem frantic, especially when tending their first cubs.

Variations on the Theme

Given this basic profile, there are variations on the theme, including the famous roadside dame of Grand Teton National Park—bear #399. Number 399 stands out as an individual who has figured out how to negotiate the human niche with considerable aplomb and minimal related hazards to the crowds of people who gather to collect photographic trophies or just simply stand awestruck. As a result, #399 has more-or-less successfully raised four litters of cubs, with a fifth currently in the nursery. (For more on #399 see this page and this page in Grizzly Times).

However, there are important differences between Felicia and #399. For one, #399 seems to be a much more grounded individual. And, yes, for those who resist the idea that animals are sentient beings with personalities, there are, in fact, enormous differences among individual grizzly bears, as between Felicia and #399. For another, #399 roams Grand Teton National Park where managers have a more benevolent mandate compared to the Forest Service, WGF, and WODT—all of which hold sway to some extent over the fate of Felicia and her remaining cub. Number 399 often has Park Service attendants focused on controlling traffic and crowds. Felicia does not.

And then there is the tragic tale of Bear #59, a roadside denizen of Yellowstone National Park with whom I worked closely during 1984-1986. Notably, # 59 and Felicia have some remarkable similarities. Number 59 could likewise have been called “frantic,” if not desperate. She likewise lost her first litter of cubs, followed by the loss of her second. She was likewise hounded by hordes of sight-seers and photographers who were, at that time, not closely tended by managers. Roadside viewing of grizzly bears was an emerging, even novel, phenomenon that Park managers were still scrambling to deal with. Of particular relevance to the developing situation with Felicia, #59 ended up killing a photographer named William Tesinsky. Tesinsky relentlessly pursued her while she was frantically digging roots in an attempt to remedy a profound deficit of body fat—with only a month to go until denning. Needless to say, she was subsequently killed by managers, despite the fact that all of the blame lay on Tesinsky’s shoulders.

A cautionary tale indeed.

What to Do?

All of this begs the question of what to do about Felicia and, more importantly, her surviving cub. Indeed, this question is on a lot of peoples’ minds. Perhaps more importantly, though, this challenge broaches the broader issue of what to do about increasing numbers of similar bears in similar situations—but where ultimate authority is held by dysfunctional and undemocratic state wildlife management agencies in a world overrun by humans.

Felicia ended up in a niche that includes private land residences and a major US highway funneling virtually all of the east-west traffic from a swath 100 miles wide. Given the imperatives of commerce and communication, there are few options for affecting traffic speeds and volumes—unlike in a National Park. And it is an inescapable fact that bears are being increasingly killed by collisions with vehicles traveling at high speeds along heavily-trafficked highways.

Likewise, odds are high that someone will be injured under circumstances where mobs containing unknowledgeable, inexperienced people—or even people greedy for the next best photograph—have more-or-less unrestrained access to a roadside grizzly, especially one accompanied by cubs. No matter how judicious or habituated the bear may be, someone is guaranteed to cross a boundary out of rudeness, stupidity, or avarice.

Some Improbable Prospects

Perhaps most urgently, Felicia’s surviving cub requires attention. Yet, as one of a species protected by the US Endangered Species Act, the cub is subject to the authority of the US Fish & Wildland Service in the form of a person sitting at a desk in Missoula, Montana, 300 miles away, which de facto results in deferral of authority to WGF managers on the scene. Yet these officials as a matter of culture and policy are loathe to intervene in something deemed “natural,” especially when there is uncertainty about whether Felicia has completely abandoned the cub, and even more so when to do so would be tacitly at the behest of “bleeding hearts” they despise.

Indeed, most WGF officials seem to harbor unabashed animosity towards not only people who emotionally identify with individual bears, but also the roadside bears themselves. As Dan Thompson, Wyoming’s Large Carnivore Specialist, said: “Habituation towards people and the roadside bear situation, it’s not something that we’re supportive of…” Despite recent soothing sounds to the contrary, it seems unlikely that WGF officials will scoop up Felicia’s cub and send it to a sanctuary. More likely it will just simply disappear.

Hazing Felicia away from the highway and perhaps conditioning her to avoid humans likewise has very limited prospects of success. As someone who has been involved in and closely privy to research on and applications of aversive conditioning, the contingencies of success are so numerous and stringent as to debar practical application in a situation such as this one. Felicia does not have—nor does she probably perceive herself as having—any good options. The least bad option from her perspective would probably be to endure any pain or discomfort meted out in predictably haphazard ways by WGF officials rather than confront the more certain threat posed by bigger badder bears in the backcountry. I have seen bears in a similar plight literally allow themselves to be beaten to death at the hands of aversive conditioners rather than abandon a putative roadside sanctuary.

More Promising Possibilities

Which, again, begs the question of what can be done? WGF almost certainly considers bears such as Felicia and her cubs to be readily expendable, and so are probably not highly motivated. Setting such attitudes aside for the moment, there are at least two measures that could be taken with prospects of yielding future benefits, perhaps not for Felicia, but for bears in future similar plights.

Nearer-term, agencies with authority over roadsides and highways could institutionalize remedial measures. WDOT could reduce speed limits on a seasonal rather than ad hoc temporary basis for stretches of highway likely to be frequented by grizzlies. The US Forest Service and WGF could create teams of Bear Rangers on call to deal with roadside situations as they emerge, and trained to manage and educate the entailed crowds. The National Park Service in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks has perfected this method, based largely on employment of relatively low-cost volunteers. Given the passionate interest, considerable resources, and evident expertise of Grand Teton National Park personnel and nearby Jackson Hole residents, teams of bear rangers would seem an easy fix.

Longer-term, a comprehensive infrastructure of fencing and crossing structures could be installed with prospects of yielding considerable benefits for bears and other wildlife. Research in the Bow Valley of Banff National Park and along Highway 93 in the Mission Valley of Montana has demonstrated the efficacies of such measures. On the down side, this kind of infrastructure is expensive, needs to be comprehensive, and would, moreover, create an obvious visual and psychological barrier between people and the bears that are the object of their affection, interest, and perhaps avarice.

Tragedy But with a Future

Felicia’s prospects seem bleak captive as she is to a hazardous near-human niche and prey to the apathy and even outright hostility of Wyoming’s wildlife managers. Prospects for Felicia’s surviving cub seem bleaker yet. This young inexperienced bear has little buffer against lack of sustenance or vagaries of the world, and is likewise prey to indifference and platitudes on the part of those with authority over its fate. And none of this is likely to change any time soon given the politics of Wyoming and a culture of willful blindness in the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Yet there is hope in the long game. Bear Rangers can be assembled, trained, and effectively deployed. A comprehensive infrastructure of highway crossings and diversions can be built. Even more ambitious yet, state wildlife management can be reformed to better represent who we are becoming, and to even pioneer a more compassionate vision of how to treat wildlife.

But achieving such long-term and prospectively resource-intensive outcomes is contingent on a fundamental reorientation. Advocates for bears such as Felicia need to do what might seem unthinkable and shift focus from a perhaps unredeemable near-term situation to higher-order and longer-term goals. Energy and even outrage is often found in the moment, but meaningful gains predictably require sustained and strategic political engagement.

Even more fundamental yet, accommodation and care for bears such as Felicia will necessarily be rooted in a foundational reordering and realignment of societal priorities—away from the self-gratification of a local culture organized around thrill sports and entertainment of elites; away from a national obsession with the distractions of digital media and related indifference to the plight of other sentient beings; instead to a committed, humble, and deeply-felt obligation to help others without power or voice.

Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle

May 13, 2019


David Mattson

As a scholar and social scientist I get annoyed when concepts are deployed for partisan purposes without regard for intellectual integrity. Having said that, I suspect that most politicians would find my distress silly, which is to be expected of a breed that exists to promote partisan ends using whatever rhetoric serves the immediate purpose. More to the point, politicians specialize in propaganda, one definition of which is: “Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect.” So, politspeak, in the spirit of Politburos and other perversions of public service.

But I expect something quite different from public servants working for administrative agencies. These people are tasked with implementing legislated policy as honestly and faithfully as possible, and, through that, maximizing benefits for the broader public they serve. Policy-relevant information is to be obtained, used, and communicated openly, with as little prejudice as possible. In other words, public communications by folks working for government bureaus should not be in the form of propaganda—not politspeak, at least in a democratic society, at least ideally.

Lethal Invocations

This brings me to public statements made during recent years by spokespeople for the federal and state agencies that manage our wildlife—more specifically, the use of a particular concept by grizzly bear managers in the Yellowstone ecosystem: that of “social carrying capacity.” To be fair, this usage is nested within a broader movement among wildlife managers who invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing all sorts of animals, which may partly explain but not excuse such prevarications.

And that’s the point. “Social carrying capacity” is invariably used to justify killing more animals. Here’s a sampler: by the Florida Wildlife Commission to institute a sport hunt on the threatened Florida black bear and increase lethal control of the endangered Florida panther; by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to increase levels of sport hunt on black bears in Maine; by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to increase the harvest of mountain lions; by David Mech, a USGS wildlife scientist, to justify hunting wolves in Oregon and Wisconsin; and by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and state wildlife management bureaus of Montana and Wyoming to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections and institute a sport hunt on grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is my focus here.

The Amorphous “We”

So what do wildlife managers seem to be saying when they invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing these animals? Basically, it comes down to this: the assertion that “people” will not tolerate any more of these large carnivores (read grizzly bears for Yellowstone), which means that “we’ve” reached the limits for how many can be supported in a given area, which means that “we” need to start reducing numbers by killing more animals. In the case of Yellowstone’s grizzlies, the preferred method for killing these bears is through a sport hunt. “People” are viewed as a homogeneous blob, and socially-defined “carrying capacity” as some kind of objective fixed reality.

Conceptual Pedigree

It is worth noting that none of the wildlife managers deploying the concept of “social carrying capacity” have any obvious expertise in conceptualizing, assessing, or otherwise measuring social phenomena. They are certainly not social scientists. And they are certainly not acquainted with the pedigree of the concept they so freely invoke.

So what are the academic roots of “social carrying capacity”? This concept was first developed by social scientists thinking about the numbers of people that could recreate in an area before their collective enjoyment was critically impaired. Alan Graefe, currently at Penn State, and Jerry Vaske, of Colorado State University, wrote an article in 1984 that reviewed “social carrying capacity” applied to recreation and concluded that it was “…not an absolute value waiting to be discovered, but rather a range of values which must be related to specific management objectives for a given area.” Bill Burch, of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (as well as a friend of mine), wrote the concept off as being essentially useless in papers that he published during 1981 and 1984 in the journal Leisure Sciences. One of his articles was aptly titled “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Nonetheless, Dan Decker and Ken Purdy, both at Cornell, wrote a paper in 1988 that extended the concept to wildlife management, modifying the term to read “wildlife acceptance capacity.” Various academics have since tried to apply this wildlife-specific concept, resurrecting the moniker of “social carrying capacity.” Ben Peyton of Michigan State University recently related the concept to wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not surprisingly, he concluded that there were four sub-populations of people typified by differing degrees of tolerance for wolves (from highly tolerant to highly intolerant), and that these levels of tolerance were rooted in basic beliefs about the benefits of wolves as well as concerns about negative impacts. He was not brash enough to construe from this how many wolves might be able to live in the Upper Peninsula. Rather, he noted that there was a wide range of highly fungible ideas about what that number might be.

An Amorphous Concept

To be fair, the concept of “social carrying capacity” gets at something fundamentally important, which is that people hold different perspectives about animals such as grizzly bears, which might translate into different ideas about how many of these animals they want, as well as willingness to encounter them or sustain material harm.

But there are huge problems with trying to package all of this in a concept such as “social carrying capacity,” which implies an ability on the part of wildlife managers to derive an unambiguous estimate of how many animals—say, grizzly bears—can live in an area, and from that arrive at some unimpeachable justification for deciding how many of these animals to kill. But such has been the presumption in virtually every instance where a wildlife manager has deployed the concept of “social carrying capacity.”

Morphous Differences

In fact, people have perspectives that engender different attitudes and expectations, with implications for how wildlife are managed. And these perspectives vary widely in reflection of different world views, different life experiences, and different external circumstances, all of which can be related to demographic proxies such as gender, age, race, place of residence, level of education, type of employment, and so on.

More explicitly, social science research has shown over and over again that white males with less education, living in rural areas, and employed in agriculture have notoriously little tolerance for large carnivores such as grizzly bears. Interestingly, most of these guys are hunters. And, of direct relevance to the drama of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, these guys dominate wildlife management by holding the purse strings and controlling wildlife commissions. Moreover, they are among the politically best connected of all in the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana where we are trying to sustain the few grizzly bears left in the contiguous United States.

Put another way, “people” are not a homogeneous blob when it comes to political power or perspectives about grizzly bears. Nor are there an unambiguous number of grizzlies (or any other wildlife species) that can be sustained given the diversity of these human perspectives. In reality, peoples’ perspectives are way too varied and fungible to be translated into anything like an estimate of “carrying capacity,” including for grizzlies in Yellowstone. Different people want different things, with only inexact notions of how that might translate into size and distribution of a wildlife population–or levels of conflict and rates of encounter.

As important, people can have huge effects on these more concrete outcomes by how they behave and whether they chose to modify their behaviors. For example, whether ranchers in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming chose to employ husbandry practices know to substantially reduce conflicts with grizzlies, or whether the US Forest Service chooses to revoke grazing permits for regressive ranchers who don’t make a good faith effort.


So, what the heck is going on with our wildlife managers? More specifically, what’s going on with state and federal managers charged with managing grizzly bears in Yellowstone?

The answer is pretty straight-forward. Grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity” as rhetorical cover for maintaining the status quo. And the status quo is largely about serving political masters (read conservative white male hunters, ranchers, or energy executives) who dominate wildlife commissions and have direct-line access to congressional delegations, state legislatures, and governor’s offices controlled by fellow regressive conservatives.

More correctly, wildlife managers are talking about political carrying capacity configured by their assessment of career prospects and the budgetary or other special interests of the wildlife management agencies they work for. To be fair, agency culture is also a major factor, including a deep-seated prejudice against predators that kill animals that would otherwise generate agency revenues through the sale of licenses to hunt large herbivores—at least according to agency myth.

Lethal Consequences

In Yellowstone, the consequences for grizzlies and those who care about them have been dramatic. The solemn intonation of “social carrying capacity” by wildlife managers has served as justification for drawing lines on maps with profound consequences for the life expectancies of grizzly bear. The current Primary Conservation Areas and Demographic Monitoring Areas for managing grizzly bears delimit the bounds beyond which these bears vaporize into the oblivion of institutionalized intolerance. Importantly, these existential lines do not denote much that is explicitly “social,” but rather much that is regionally political.

Interestingly, the notion of “social carrying capacity” was seized upon by opportunistic agency managers during 2004-2007 to capture rhetoric voiced by “advisory councils” constituted by the governors of Montana and Wyoming during 2002-2003. Notably, these highly politicized “councils,” billed as representing a “wide range of stakeholder interests,” served primarily to set the stage for the 2007 removal of ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears—a move later over-turned by federal courts. This recent history uncannily foreshadows the current widely-publicized move by Montana’s governor to convene yet another “advisory council” that will no doubt intone, yet again, the presumed diktat of “social carrying capacity” as, yet again, presumed imperative to remove ESA protections for grizzly bears throughout the Northern Rockies. Or, more transparently: kill more grizzly bears as a balm to the wounds of ranchers, farmers, and conservative ideologues sustained by already ample federal subsidies.

Betraying the Public Trust

All of this brings me back to where I started. I am aggravated, not just by the betrayal of intellectual integrity implicit to how Yellowstone’s grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity,” but also by the extent to which this usage is clearly part of a propaganda campaign that serves the partisan interests of wildlife management agencies and the politically well-connected few that they serve—not the broader public interest. It is especially egregious that a federal bureau such as the US Fish & Wildlife Service is so fully complicit in this betrayal of the public interest when this agency should be representing the interests of all people in the United States, not just ranchers and hunters in states such as Wyoming.

Social carrying capacity? The term should be relegated to the trash bin of Orwellian Politspeak.

Editorial: Build public credibility by making Grizzly Advisory Council transparent fromthe start

Missoulian May 8, 2019

It speaks to Montanans’ high interest in grizzly bears that 157 individuals
have been nominated to serve on a grizzly bear advisory committee that may
have 20 seats at most. Now comes the difficult task of whittling down the
lengthy list of volunteers.

Gov. Steve Bullock is already committed to ensuring the committee
encompasses the widest possible range of perspectives and a comprehensive
variety of expertise. But Bullock must also take pains to make his selection
process as transparent as possible, and to fully explain to the public the
reasoning behind his picks. At a minimum, the names and qualifications of
the volunteers need to be posted on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
website. That way, when the eventual selections are made, people can see for
themselves just how representative the council is.

After all, the advisory council will represent the general public on
critical grizzly bear management matters, an issue of looming importance as
the bears face the likely loss of federal protections.

Montana shares responsibility for four grizzly recovery zones, each of which
is home to its own unique challenges. Moreover, on top of the regional
distinctions, a key component to successful recovery involves connecting
genetically isolated populations. The council must therefore consider how to
promote healthy bear populations while also finding effective ways to reduce
conflicts with humans.

According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, the advisory
council will consider how best to:

. Maintain and enhance human safety

. Ensure a healthy and sustainable grizzly bear population

. Improve the response to conflicts involving grizzly bears

. Engage all partners in grizzly-related outreach and conflict prevention

. Improve intergovernmental, interagency, and tribal coordination

That’s a tall order, and to that end, the members of the council clearly
should come to the table prepared to share expertise on bear behavior – but
also human behavior. Montanans across the state will need to learn how to
safely share a home with grizzly bears.

As FWP Region 2 Supervisor Randy Arnold noted in a recent Missoulian news
article: “There are a lot of folks who will soon be dealing with grizzly
bears who have not been a part of this conversation.” The governor’s
advisory council offers an opportunity for these folks to have their
concerns considered and answered before any major problems arise.

But Governor Bullock must first reassure the public that no legitimate
concern will be ignored, and no voice will go unheard. He can get started on
the right foot and set a clear expectation of transparency throughout the
process by being open with the public as he selects the members of the
Grizzly Bear Advisory Council.


A study led by Susan Solomon found that the CO2 we add to the atmosphere
every day remains there for centuries, “so that atmospheric temperatures do
not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years<<

Groups Intend to Sue Over New Wyoming Grizzly Hunt Law

Groups file notice of intent to sue over a new Wyoming law that could authorize grizzly bear hunting even though grizzlies are federally protected.

Feb. 20, 2019, at 5:56 p.m.

CHEYENNE, WYO. (AP) — Environmental groups have filed notice they intend to sue over a new Wyoming law that could authorize grizzly bear hunting even though grizzlies are federally protected.

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and Western Watersheds Project sent the notice Wednesday to Wyoming officials including the director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Wyoming and Idaho were preparing to hold grizzly bear hunts in 2018 when a federal judge in Montana ruled the bears needed re-listing as a threatened species.

On Friday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a bill that would allow the state Game and Fish Commission to plan a grizzly bear hunt, anyway.

The groups say Wyoming lacks authority to hold a grizzly hunt. Wyoming officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.