Mindless Behavior, Sadistic Tactics Planned Against Alaska Wildlife

Here are C.A.S.H.’s Comments Re the proposed anti-animal tactics to be undertaken in Alaskan National Monuments:

As a wildlife photographer I’ve spent the better part of a decade in Alaska, photographing bears and wolves in addition to moose, Dall’s sheep and caribou in numerous locations throughout the region. Most of what I saw was in the State’s National Parks—Glacier Bay, Katmai and Denali. One thing that struck me right off was how comparatively little wildlife I came acrossin National Monuments such as Wrangle Saint Elias. Clearly, hunting and trapping had taken their toll in the unprotected lands and monuments that, unlike the parks, allowed wildlife “harvesting.”

But even if I wasn’t now president of the group C.A.S.H., the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, I’d be sickened, outraged and appalled by the new federal proposals to allow abusive treatment of some ofthe world’s most intelligent and charismatic animals who reside in our Alaskan national monuments. Among the shockingly sadistic tactics are such mindless behaviors as murdering bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens, targeting of animals like swimming caribou from boats and using bait to lure animals like bears in for the kill.

The Trump Administration, in their rush to undo any protections wildlife may have been afforded under the Obama Administration, must think they’ll score points with their friends in the NRA or the Safari Club. But their boss doesn’t need anything else to make him look bad at this point in his career—his sons are already doing a bang-up job at that.

Jim Robertson

President, Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting.

Comment on the new rules here: https://www.regulations.gov/searchResults?rpp=25&po=0&s=1024-AE38&fp=true&ns=true

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Grizzly committee to vote on delisting strategy for northwest Montana bears

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National Elk Refuge grizzly bears
A grizzly bear sow and cubs roam the National Elk Refuge south of Grand Teton National Park. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection and handed over to state wildlife agency management in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meets in Polson, Montana this week to consider last steps toward removing Montana’s largest population of grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List.

IGBC members meet on Tuesday and Wednesday to possibly adopt the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem conservation strategy, the blueprint directing how state wildlife agencies would manage grizzlies if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delists them.

FWS has already removed about 700 grizzly bears in the three-state area known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the endangered list. Wyoming Game and Fish Department has proposed selling hunting licenses for at least 22 grizzlies this fall. Idaho has a quota of one male grizzly for hunting. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks commissioners opted to skip a grizzly hunt in 2018 over concerns that pending lawsuits against the delisting might block a fall hunt.

On Friday Idaho Fish and Game Dept. announced its system for a grizzly hunting lottery, with applications accepted between June 15 and July 15. The drawing is limited to Idaho residents with a valid state hunting license who must pay a nonrefundable $16.75 application fee and prepay the tag fee of at least $166.75. Unsuccessful applicants will get their tag fees refunded.

About 1,000 grizzlies live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which spreads along the Rocky Mountains from the Canadian border with Glacier National Park south almost to Missoula. They are considered geographically and genetically distinct from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem bears.

If the IGBC members approve the conservation strategy on this week, it may form the basis of the federal delisting rule set to be published later in 2018.

“It essentially commits the agencies to follow the spirit of the conservation strategy,” said IGBC spokesman Dillon Tabish. “This isn’t the end of the public opportunity to comment. Any actions they (the participating agencies) would have to take must follow public process.”

FWS Grizzly Recovery Coordinator Hillary Cooley said the final delisting rule remained a ways off.

“We’ve got an initial draft, but it has a lot of review to go through,” Cooley said on Friday. “We don’t have a specific date right now, other than by the end of 2018.”

Cooley explained that while the IGBC executive committee’s endorsement is important to the federal rule-making process, the individual agencies, such as the National Park Service, state wildlife managers and Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal governments, sign separately.

The federal delisting rule sets mortality limits for how many bears may die before Endangered Species Act protections might be re-imposed. The conservation strategy guides local wildlife managers in how to avoid that situation.

“If a state or tribe decides to hunt at some time, that’s their business,” Cooley said. “What matters to us is they stay within the mortality limits, no matter what the cause.”

The strategy has received extensive criticism of its methods for measuring bear population trends, habitat quality and allowance of hunting opportunities. Mike Bader, an advocate for keeping grizzlies under ESA protection, said the new strategy appeared legally vulnerable.

“They’re just rushing this through as fast as they can,” Bader said on Friday. “I don’t think they’ve dotted the i’s or crossed the t’s on what the grizzly bear needs.”

Bader noted that seven NCDE grizzlies have died in the past few weeks, including four that were hit by vehicles on roadways. He said the strategy made overly optimistic assumptions about how fast grizzly numbers are growing, which could prove disastrous if conditions change unexpectedly.

A federal judge in Missoula has scheduled an August 31 hearing on challenges to the Greater Yellowstone grizzly delisting. Wyoming’s proposed grizzly hunting season starts right after that, and could be derailed if the judge rules to keep the bear federally protected or requires more time for review.

One issue the lawsuit raises is whether FWS can remove protection from some distinct population segments of bears (such as the Greater Yellowstone) without dooming recovery in smaller areas such as the Cabinet-Yaak or North Cascades ecosystems. A similar lawsuit involving delisting gray wolves around the Western Great Lakes ordered FWS to take a much harder look at how removing protections from one population segment might affect the others.

Tabish said the final 144-page strategy has an appendix with about 60 pages of responses to past public comments. Tuesday’s meeting will further discuss how the NCDE and Yellowstone ecosystem bear populations might link in the future.

The executive committee plans to tour the National Bison Range and some other parts of the Mission Valley affected by grizzly activity on Wednesday.

Three Hunting Guides Arraigned in Nome

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Eric Gorski.

HUNTING GUIDE BRIAN LEE SIMPSON, 56, was arraigned in the Nome courthouse on Monday. Simpson was charged with five misdemeanor violations of Alaska hunting laws, including illegal guiding on private land.

Last Friday, two of Simpson’s employees were also arraigned. Tyler Weyiouanna, 25,  was charged with aiding in the violation of hunting regulations and using a motor vehicle to harass game. Matthew Iyatunguk, 23, was charged with one count of harassing game.

The charges were initially filed in Alaska District Court on August 17th. Simpson has hired his own attorney, while Weyiouanna and Iyatunguk will be represented by public defenders appointed by the court. All three men are set to appear at the courthouse in Nome on November 9th.

Image at top: Brown bear. Photo via Flickr / Creative Commons, courtesy of Eric Gorski.

Grizzly bear trophy hunt in Yellowstone area could be approved today

May 23 at 7:00 AM

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The state’s Game and Fish Commission votes Wednesday on a grizzly bear hunt that would permit the killing of up to 22 bears. (Jim Urquhart/AP)

A Wyoming wildlife commission will vote Wednesday on whether to approve the state’s first grizzly bear hunt in more than four decades, a proposal that could lead to the killing of as many as 22 bears just one year after Yellowstone-area grizzlies were removed from the endangered species list.

Grizzly bears in the Lower 48 were federally protected in 1975, when only about 136 of the animals remained in and around Yellowstone National Park. Their numbers had rebounded to about 700 by last year, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the Yellowstone population and leave its management to the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Montana in February decided against opening a trophy hunt, and Idaho, home to the smallest number of grizzlies, this month approved a fall huntof a single male bear.

Under Wyoming’s proposal, a maximum of one female or 10 male grizzlies could be killed inside the state’s section of a federally designated “demographic monitoring area” — a zone of “suitable” bear habitat where biologists track the species’ population. Another 12, male or female, could be hunted outside that area. No hunting would be allowed inside Yellowstone, nearby Grand Teton National Park or the road that connects them. The Wyoming plan also includes a no-hunt buffer zone in a region east of Grand Teton where several bears adored by photographers and tourists are known to roam and den.


Wyoming’s proposal would allow for the hunting of a maximum of one female or 10 males within Zones 1-6. Up to 12 bears, female or male, could be hunted in Zone 7. (Wyoming Fish and Game Department)

Federal biologists say limited hunting is unlikely to harm the overall grizzly population in the Yellowstone area, and Wyoming officials have described their proposal as conservative. “The question is not whether you hunt grizzly bears or not,” Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, told C-SPAN earlier this month. “The question is whether grizzly bears have grown enough in terms of population and in habitat that they can be a sustainable species. And clearly they have.”

But the hunting plan has faced heavy opposition from conservation groups and others who say it would imperil the population. More than 200 tribal nations have condemned the idea of hunting an animal they consider sacred and proposed to instead relocate grizzlies to tribal lands. More than 100 wildlife photographers wrote a letter calling on Mead to prioritize the wishes — and dollars — of tourists who come to the region in hopes of spotting “one of the most storied, beloved and photographed bear populations in the world.”

In another recent letter to the governor, 73 scientists said the hunt would recklessly endanger a vulnerable population that has lost food sources, including white bark pine, due to climate change, and limit Yellowstone bears’ ability to connect with a larger population of grizzlies in northwest Montana. (Those bears, in and around Glacier National Park, remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, although Fish and Wildlife is considering delisting them as well.)

The letter, written by the former federal grizzly bear biologist David Mattson, said allowing a dozen deaths outside the demographic monitoring area, where approximately 80 to 100 grizzlies live, would be “tantamount to planned extirpation,” in that region. Hunting, it continued, “is ethically irresponsible, unwarranted and not in the public’s interest.”


Grizzly bear No. 399 crosses a road in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming with her three cubs in 2011. The Wyoming grizzly proposal includes a no-hunt buffer zone east of Teton in an area where 399 and other famous bears are known to den. (Tom Mangelsen/AP)

Conservation organizations say hunting would add unnecessary deaths to the dozens of grizzlies killed by humans each year as the bears expand farther into developed areas.

“Grizzly bears have only just begun to recover, and hunting could sabotage that crucial process,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People love these bears and don’t want to see them killed just so somebody can put a trophy on the wall.”

At least 56 grizzlies died within the demographic monitoring area last year, many after being hit by cars, shot in self-defense by hunters or lethally “removed” by wildlife agencies for killing livestock or seeking out human food. Of seven deaths recorded this year, four have been in Wyoming. Three were killed by state bear managers — one for breaking into a building for food, and two for “frequenting a calving area” and “bold behavior toward humans.” The fourth, an elderly bear that could not lift its hind legs, was euthanized, according to federal records.

Like conservation groups, Wyoming officials cite those numbers as talking points, but they use them instead to justify a hunt. Hunters, they say, could help weed out problem bears.

“The agency is removing every year several female and male bears for conflict reasons, and if hunting reduces that, it’s a good thing,” Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for the state Game and Fish Department, told the Casper Star-Tribune.

Wyoming’s proposal has gotten support from the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, a group that promotes hunting. Even if approved by the state game and fish commission on Wednesday, however, it could be stymied in court later this year.

Several lawsuits have challenged the delisting of Yellowstone grizzlies, and a U.S. District Court judge earlier this year ordered all parties to combine their arguments into a single set of briefs. A decision is expected this summer, before the September start of hunting seasons in Wyoming and  Idaho.

Read more:

Grizzly bears are spreading far beyond Yellowstone National Park. Can people and the bears coexist?

The true story of two fatal grizzly bear attacks that changed our relationship with wildlife

Could a bear break into that cooler? Watch these grizzlies try.

Watch a sleepy bear that just isn’t ready to stop hibernating

Grande Cache animal lover ‘devastated’ after bear cub euthanized by provincial officials

Groot, a grizzly bear cub discovered by a highway near Grande Cache, was destroyed after a local animal advocate turned it over to provincial wildlife officials. ORG XMIT: nkDgueFEGHZbedIRnR4d EDMONTON

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A Grande Cache animal advocate is distraught after an abandoned grizzly bear cub she nursed back to health was destroyed by provincial wildlife officials.

“I was absolutely devastated,” said Brandy Gienger of the Grande Cache Animal Society. “I was heartbroken when I passed him over to the fish and game officers because I knew that he was going to be euthanized.

“I knew that (they) were just telling me what I wanted to hear so they didn’t have to create a scene with someone.”

On May 3, a work crew informed Gienger of an abandoned bear cub along Highway 40 near the Sheep Creek Bridge. The animal society called Alberta Fish and Wildlife, who told Gienger to leave the animal because its mother was probably out hunting.

The bear was still there among the rocks three days later. On the fourth day, the cub was gone, so Gienger assumed it had been picked up by its mother or fish and wildlife.

One day later though, someone called to say the bear was still in the same area by the highway. That evening, they went to collect the cub, who they decided to call Groot.

An Alberta wildlife rescue organization said it would work to rehabilitate the starving animal, and instructed Gienger how to care for him. Gienger kept him in a dark kennel to keep him from becoming habituated to humans, and fed him goat’s milk, which the famished bear cub loved.

Groot, a grizzly bear cub discovered by a highway near Grande Cache, was destroyed after a local animal advocate turned it over to provincial wildlife officials.  EDMONTON

By Thursday, they were ready to send the bear to the rescue centre when they got a call that conservation officers were on their way to collect him.

Gienger said she was reluctant because the bear was hours away from heading to a rescue. But she was assured the officials would “take the best interests” of the bear cub and take care of it.

On Friday morning, an apologetic provincial official told Gienger that the bear had been destroyed because he was severely dehydrated and his organs had stopped functioning properly. That ran counter to what Gienger had seen.

In a statement, Alberta Environment and Parks officials said steps were taken to find a facility that would accept a grizzly bear for permanent care, such as a zoo. However, they were unsuccessful, and said they had no choice to euthanize the “emaciated, dehydrated, lethargic” bear which was “near death.”

“This was a very sad situation, but unfortunately, officials felt the most humane thing to do was to limit the animal’s suffering,” the statement reads. “The decision to humanely euthanize this grizzly bear cub was not made lightly.”

Alberta recently approved a rehabilitation protocol for orphaned black bears, the statement added. However, the “rehabilitation requirements for grizzly bears are different, often requiring specialized care for a longer period of time.”

Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers kill grizzly bear cub near Grande Cache

http://vancouversun.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/alberta-fish-and-wildlife-officers-kill-grizzly-bear-cub-near-grande-cache/wcm/c9e89eb7-ce69-4b71-b3be-08da476d40ca

A rescued grizzly bear cub is seen in this undated handout photo. Concerns are being raised about Alberta’s new policy on rehabilitating bears after a grizzly cub was killed by Fish and Wildlife officers this week. Two women rescued a grizzly bear cub near Grande Cache this week after watching it for five days to see if its mother would return for it. KYLA WOOLLARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

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GRANDE CACHE, Alta. — Concerns are being raised about Alberta’s new policy on rehabilitating orphaned bears after a grizzly cub was killed by wildlife officers this week.

The province lifted a ban on private rehabilitation of cubs last month, but it only applies to black bears.

Two women rescued a grizzly bear cub near Grande Cache this week after watching it for five days to see if its mother would return for it. They went down to the area on Wednesday to check on the bear and found it emaciated, weak and starving.

“We brought it home and fed it some goat’s milk,” said Brandy Gienger, who’s with the Grande Cache Animal Society.

They had two rehabilitation facilities that were willing to take the bear, which they named Grout, but provincial wildlife officers showed up Thursday and took the cub away.

Woollard said they were told Friday that the bear has been put down by the officers.

“They just destroyed him,” said Gienger. “I’m devastated. I am absolutely disgusted with this.”

“They didn’t give him a chance at all.”

Officials with the province said in a statement that they tried to find a zoo that would accept the bear under permanent care, but they weren’t able to find one.

“The bear was emaciated, dehydrated, lethargic, and near death and specialists did not believe it would survive,” said the email. “To limit the bear’s suffering, the bear was euthanized.”

Gienger said the bear was responding well after being fed the goat’s milk.

Her friend, Kyla Woollard, said they’ve heard from the province and hope officials can change the orphaned bear policy to include grizzlies.

“I’m still upset at the fact that something that was so innocent had to lose its life,” she said. “When they passed the law to rehabilitate black bears, I feel like they should have made a law to rehabilitate all animals.”

The province recently approved the orphaned black bear protocol, but they said in their statement that every animal is different.

“The rehabilitation requirements for grizzly bears are different, often requiring specialized care for a longer period of time,” they said in the statement.

Grizzly bears were listed as threatened in Alberta in 2010 when it was determined there were only about 700 left. The numbers led to a recovery strategy aimed at reducing the number of deaths caused by people.

–By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton

Yellowstone’s grizzlies under threat from controversial hunting proposal

Nature  NEWS  03 MAY 2018

Biologists argue that plan could endanger the bear population in the iconic ecosystem.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05061-9

 

Giorgia Guglielmi

 

On 23 May, Wyoming officials will vote on whether to allow the hunting of up to two dozen grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park this September. The proposed hunt has reignited controversy over whether or not this population of grizzlies has recovered from decades of hunting and habitat destruction — an issue that was central to the US government’s decision to take the bears in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem off the endangered-species list in 2017.

Seventy-three scientists sent a letter to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead on 25 April, asking him to halt the hunt until a panel of independent experts can review data on the size of the grizzly (Ursos arctos horribilis) population in this area.They are concerned that government tallies overestimate the number of bears in the ecosystem surrounding Yellowstone National Park, which spans roughly 80,000 square kilometres and is one of the largest continuous wilderness areas in the contiguous United States.

Critics challenge the federal government’s methods for assessing whether the grizzly population has become large enough to face a hunting season1. Those estimates might be too high because of a number of factors, says David Mattson, a wildlife researcher in Livingston, Montana, who retired from the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 2013. They include increased monitoring efforts in the past 30 years, better visibility of bears to aerial surveys — because of shifts in where the animals look for food — and assumptions that females will continue to reproduce until they die. There’s evidence that as female grizzlies age, they tend to reproduce less, Mattson says.

Wildlife scientist Frank van Manen, who leads the USGS Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) in Bozeman, Montana, disagrees with critics of the government estimates. The IGBST collects grizzly population data using a range of methods, including aerial surveys and tagging individual bears2, van Manen says, and the numbers from each method agree. He says that the current population estimate of 718 bears is “extremely conservative”.

Restricted hunts

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department proposed the hunt in February on the basis of those population assessments, and gave the public until 30 April to submit comments on draft regulations. If the rules were to pass, hunters could take up to 12 bears in the monitored region surrounding Yellowstone National Park — an area of about 50,000 square kilometres. They would be allowed to kill a further 12 bears outside that monitoring area, but still in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The state’s wildlife commission is currently reviewing public comments ahead of the late-May vote.

When the US Department of the Interior ended federal protections for the Yellowstone grizzly bear last year, the agency turned management of the animals over to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming — the three states in which the animals live. Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission is gathering public comments on a possible hunt. But Montana officials decided to skip this year’s hunting season, citing pending lawsuits claiming that the animals remain threatened.

Mattson and the other researchers who wrote to the governor about the hunt listed several concerns in their letter. Some of the bear’s food, including cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), will probably become even scarcer in the future as a result of environmental changes, the researchers say. This will threaten the survival of some bears and push them to hunt livestock or look for food near houses, increasing their run-ins with people, says Mattson. This could lead to a rise in the number of animals killed as a result of these conflicts, which would further shrink the population.

Size matters

Even if the current population estimates are accurate, removing 24 animals through hunting could have detrimental effects, says Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who is based in Victor, Idaho. In 2017, 56 bears died in the IGBST monitoring area as a result of natural causes or conflicts with people. “If the same amount dies this year, we could be looking at up to 80 bears removed from the population,” Santarsiere says. “That’s about 10% of the current population.”

And killing females might pose even higher risks to the survival of Yellowstone grizzlies, Santarsiere says. The Wyoming proposal would allow the killing of no more than two females in the area around Yellowstone monitored by the IGBST, but it doesn’t put a cap on the number of females that hunters can take outside this area in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Females can carry up to four cubs at a time, Santarsiere says, “so killing one female could equal removing five bears from the population”.

The USGS’s Van Manen says the hunting proposal won’t pose a risk to the bear population. Only two hunters at a time would be allowed in the monitoring area, and the hunts would stop as soon as two females had been killed in this region, he says.

Wyoming officials seem to be intent on moving forward with this, says Louisa Willcox, a wildlife activist based in Livingston, Montana, who has been in contact with the state’s Game and Fish Department. “It’s extremely unlikely that the scientists’ comments will make them pause.”

Nature 557, 148-149 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05061-9

 


 


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“The big challenge is still to deliver emissions reductions at the pace and scale needed, especially in a world where economies are driven by consumption.”

Sonja van Renssen.The inconvenient truth of failed climate policies. Nature Climate Change  MAY 2018

Published online: 27 April 2018 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0155-4 
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Grizzly bears could make a return to WA — for real this time

Grizzly bears in Denali National Park

Grizzly bears in Denali National Park (Photo by Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service via Flickr)

He said it. He really did. To everyone’s surprise, on March 23, at the North Cascades National Park headquarters in Sedro-Woolley, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — the same Ryan Zinke who had recommended shrinking Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and who had announced last June that Yellowstone’s grizzlies would be dropped from the endangered species list — declared that he was all for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades.

“We are moving forward with plans to restore the bear to the North Cascades,” Zinke said, stating unequivocally that the stalled process of preparing an environmental impact statement for grizzly restoration there would be completed by the end of this year.

If that really happens, then — 43 years after grizzlies were first listed under the Endangered Species Act — federal agencies can start bringing them back to the Cascades.

Once upon a time, hundreds of grizzlies roamed the North Cascades, as they roamed virtually all the rest of the Western United States. But for more than a century, people shot and trapped them, and the big bears were virtually all gone by the time North Cascades National Park was created in 1968. A year before that, at least one grizzly had still roamed the mountains; somebody shot it within what soon became the park.

Eight years later, grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. A federal recovery plan subsequently designated six grizzly bear recovery zones. One recovery zone covered 6 million acres, nearly all of it national park and national forest land in the North Cascades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came out with a North Cascades chapter to the national grizzly bear restoration plan 21 years ago, but it was never funded until late in the Obama administration. The environmental impact statement (EIS) process then began, but the Interior Department halted it last year.

Now, if the EIS gets finished as Interior Secretary Zinke promises, the feds can move ahead with restoration.

In the years after that lone grizzly was shot in 1967, people have occasionally reported seeing something that sure looked like a grizzly bear, and biologists have assumed a handful of bears at least dropped by. But for years, no one has found hard evidence. The draft EIS explains that in the previous 10 years, there were only four confirmed sightings in the North Cascades — all north of the border with Canada.

Despite extensive research, says Jack Oelfke, head of cultural and natural resources for North Cascades National Park, “we have not had a verified sighting of a grizzly bear on the U.S. side of the border in this ecosystem since the mid-1990s.” In other words, “the population is functionally extirpated. So, it is safe to say that any bears that might be seen on the U.S. side of the border are ‘tourists,’ and are not residents … but that we haven’t even verified a ‘tourist’ bear since the mid-1990s.”

No one expects that grizzlies, left to their own devices, will form a self-sustaining population in the North Cascades ever again. Washington’s current wolf packs were started by individual animals that just walked into the state. Why don’t grizzlies do the same? There are bears north of the border in British Columbia; the closest populations are endangered themselves. Besides, to get here from the north, a bear faces a number of barriers near the border: They would have to swim the Fraser River — not a big challenge for a bear — and cross railroad lines, roads, the Trans-Canada Highway. All together, the barriers are formidable.

Protesters concerned about Ryan Zinke's policies as Secretary of the Interior cheered his decision to move forward on planning for grizzly bears in the North Cascades.
Protesters concerned about Ryan Zinke’s policies as Secretary of the Interior cheered his decision to move forward on planning for grizzly bears in the North Cascades. (Photo by Scott Terrell/Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

If we, as a society, want a grizzly population in the North Cascades, we’ll have to start by hauling in bears from someplace else. Some people don’t like the idea. In 1995, just two years after the recovery plan came out, the state Legislature declared unequivocally, “Grizzly bears shall not be transplanted or introduced into the state.” That law, however, has no legal bearing on national park or national forest lands in the North Cascades. If bears are transported here from Canada or Montana, though, the law would keep state agencies from taking part in restoration efforts.

Joe Scott, international programs director for Conservation Northwest, sees a contradiction: Virtually no one objects to letting nature take its course. If grizzlies show up on their own and take up residence in the North Cascades, that’s OK. But if they get chauffeured in, it’s not so universally accepted. Still, you would have bears there either way.

Before federal agencies would move grizzlies into the North Cascades, Scott says, “They’ve got to find the right bears.” When the restoration planning process started, the national park’s Oelfke says, “we laid out criteria.” First, they’d only take bears from a population that seemed healthy enough to part with some. And they would avoid bears that had any history of conflict with human beings. A bear that already had a taste for garbage would not be a good fit. Problem bears get shot, no matter where they wind up. “Any bear that associates human beings with food is a goner,” Scott says.

The feds, it’s envisioned, would pick bears from an ecosystem that contained foods also found in the North Cascades. Then, they would pick young bears, between 2 and 5 years old. Older bears would be much more likely to pack up and leave. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Kasworm notes, “Older bears have already invested a portion of their lives in learning their home territories.” Why wouldn’t they go back? (Everyone involved in the North Cascades planning process knows the story of Winston, a grizzly from British Columbia’s Coast Range mountains that was placed experimentally in the North Cascades years ago. He was collared, so scientists monitoring him knew that he hung out for a while near Ross Lake, then headed for home, crossing roads and walking through people’s yards without being seen. They don’t want more Winstons.)

The scientists would also choose more young females than young males to rebuild the population. Plus, females would be less likely to head back home. The bears might come from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem around Glacier National Park or maybe from Wells Gray Provincial Park, well north of Kamloops in eastern British Columbia.

Populations of predators have certainly been introduced into habitat they had historically roamed. The classic example is Yellowstone wolves. Closer to home, you can look at fishers in the Olympics and Cascades. But grizzlies have only been introduced once —  — it is still being done — in the Cabinet Mountains of northwestern Montana, part of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone.

The project there appears to be successful, offering a template for restoration in the North Cascades, according to Kasworm, who has led the Montana work from the beginning. “We have taken a population that ran in the single digits and brought it back to about 25,” he explains.

It is what he calls “a slow progression.” He and his colleagues started in 1990, introducing four bears as a test between that year and 1994. It took another 10 years, until 2004, to find the first DNA evidence that the bears had started reproducing. Now, he says, they’re going on the fourth generation.

Ryan Zinke at the North Cascades National Park
Ryan Zinke at the North Cascades National Park (Scott Terrell /Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

The recovery plan Zinke backed for the North Cascades has a no-action alternative — just keep on keeping on and if grizzlies show up, that will be nice — and three action alternatives, all of which envision a population of up to 200 grizzly bears a century from now. Scott says that some people seem to have “a perception that the ultimate objectives are meant to be immediate. It’ll take a century to get to 200 bears — if all goes well.”

“The most [bears] I’ve heard of being moved in any one year is a handful,” he explains. Alternative C — which Conservation Northwest favors — would bring in up to 25 bears over the first 10 years. Not all of those bears would survive. Some would walk away. At best, the population would grow by a couple of bears each year.

The National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service received 127,000 public comments on their draft EIS. Not all were favorable. That was hardly a surprise. Ranchers who already feel beleaguered by wolf packs don’t welcome the prospect of more large predators. And, of course, the idea of a charging grizzly bear is beyond scary, even though, in reality, fewer people are killed by grizzlies than perish in avalanches, according to statistics compiled by Backpacker magazine some years ago.. The seven avalanche deaths in Washington this winter exceed the number of people killed by bears of any kind in all of North America during any year since the turn of the century.

Occasionally, (bear) shit does happen. A man I know was hiking some years ago in Glacier National Park, on a trail along which no bear activity had been reported, when he and a friend saw what they thought was a big dog out in a field. The dog ran toward them. It turned out to be a young male grizzly. It mauled the two people. There’s no way to sugar-coat that.

Oelfke with the North Cascades National Park doesn’t try. He does point out, though, that society has decided to save species, and that entails certain risks. As does spending time in designated wilderness areas.

Then there’s climate change to consider. Would climate change, the elephant in so many rooms, ultimately make the North Cascades a lousy place for grizzly bears, no matter how many are trucked in? Probably not. Officials will do more work on climate change “to pin down what the anticipated changes will be,” Oelfke says. But he says that grizzly bears are noted for their “incredible flexibility” about food. He notes “Their range before [European] settlement,” he notes, “was from the far north all the way to Mexico.” In the North Cascades, “a variety of habitats exist,” Oelfke says, “and thus a variety of food resources.” The bears are “such generalists that even with some changes in habitat, they may not become affected” by the higher temperatures, thinner snowpacks and more frequent downpours predicted for Washington, he says.

Their chances will, of course, be better if Zinke’s support represents a trend, rather than an anomaly. After Zinke’s Sedro-Woolley speech, Conservation Northwest’s executive director, Mitch Friedman,told The Seattle Times’ Lynda Mapes, “Let me catch my breath. Nixon went to China. Zinke is going to bring the grizzly bear back to the North Cascades.”

And why not? “Wildlife conservation used to be a bipartisan issue,” Scott says. “It would be nice to think that wildlife would once again become a bipartisan issue.”

B.C. strengthens grizzly bear hunting ban with new regulations

Montana Decides Not to Hunt Grizzly Bears this Year

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has decided not to hold a Yellowstone-area grizzly bear hunting season this year. This is welcome news and makes a lot of sense. We applaud the agency’s decision and want to do everything we can to work together to avoid any need (or excuse) for a grizzly hunting season in the future.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “delisted” grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—an area that includes portions of southwestern Montana, northwestern Wyoming, and northeastern Idaho. This means that in those areas, Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears have been removed and the states could now hold limited hunting seasons.

Map showing the Greater Yellowstone Area grizzly bear “Distinct Population Segment” (blue exterior line). Grizzlies within this boundary have been delisted and could now be hunted (outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks).Credit FWS

Wyoming plans to move forward with a grizzly hunting season this year. Idaho will likely discuss the issue during its Fish and Game Commission meeting next month. We are encouraged that, in the meantime, Montana has shown restraint and decided not to hold a hunt in 2018.

In her comments recommending against a hunt this year, FWP Director Martha Williams emphasized focusing on managing grizzly bears for long-term recovery and conflict prevention. She explained that FWP will be “continuing to work hard at responding proactively to bear conflicts and educating people and communities in grizzly country how to be bear aware.”

Indeed, FWP’s wildlife specialists have long worked with communities like Missoula to prevent human-bear conflicts. And the agency’s website has a veritable library of practical advice about living with bears, such as how to recreate safely in bear country, avoid bear attractants, and use bear spray.

Example of electric wire installed by the Blackfoot Challenge to secure garbage in a solid waste transfer station from grizzly bears in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley.Photo NRDC

This is critically important work for bears and humans alike. Emphasizing conflict prevention is the exact direction that grizzly bear management in Montana should continue to take, whether grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act or not. In recent years, NRDC has collaborated with ranchers, conservation colleagues, and state and federal wildlife managers—including FWP—to reduce conflicts with large carnivores like grizzlies. We look forward to supporting and partnering with FWP in the coming years to do even more.

In the meantime, FWP’s decision not to hunt grizzlies makes sense for multiple reasons. After more than 40 years on the list of threatened and endangered species, Yellowstone-area grizzlies were removed less than a year ago. The population remains completely isolated from any other grizzly bear population. It also remains too small to ensure long-term genetic health. Rather than killing these bears as soon as we can, we should stay focused on helping them further recover.

In addition, litigation over FWS’s grizzly delisting rule is ongoing. Shortly after the final rule was published, a federal appellate court rejected an identical approach taken by FWS to delist Western Great Lakes wolves. As we’ve told the agency, this means FWS—as the Court required it to do with Great Lakes wolves—should rescind its grizzly delisting rule, start over with any proposal to delist Yellowstone grizzlies, and re-list the bears in the meantime. Until these legal challenges and shortcomings are resolved, it makes little sense to even consider a hunt.

Grizzly bears are Montana’s state animal. They are the emblem of our wildlife management agency. They are one of the reasons I feel so proud and fortunate to have grown up in this state—and so humble when I head into its mountains. We don’t need to hunt these magnificent creatures. Instead, by working together and being proactive, we can figure out how to protect property and keep livestock, and ourselves, safe in grizzly country. We can figure out how to reconnect Yellowstone-area bears with their nearest neighbors to the northwest. It will take work. But as Director Williams herself has reflected, “the honor of living in one of the few remaining states with healthy grizzly populations makes that effort more than worthwhile.”

Photo USGS

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.