Breaking news: U.S. says grizzly bears should remain protected under Endangered Species Act

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

April 1, 2021 0 Comments

Breaking news: U.S. says grizzly bears should remain protected under Endangered Species Act

States that are home to these bears should be doing all they can to protect them but instead they have chosen to sell them out to trophy hunting interests. Photo by Don Getty1.2KSHARES

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states should retain their current protections under the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the primary federal agency that makes decisions on the conservation of wildlife species. This is encouraging news for these native carnivores who have been under attack from trophy hunting interests in the states they live in, and who need all the help they can get to survive.

In a report published yesterday, the USFWS recommended that grizzly bears retain “threatened” status based on a five-year scientific status review.

Under the previous administration, the USFWS, in 2017, sought to prematurely delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as a handout to trophy hunters. We stopped this effort—and with it the first trophy hunting season on grizzlies in decades—in its tracks with a federal court victory in 2018 followed by an appeals court victory in 2020.

There are fewer than 1,800 grizzly bears now in the lower 48 states—a small number, by any measure. These animals were nearly wiped out of existence in the United States between 1915 and 1975. Today they occupy less than 2% of their original range in the United States.

Grizzly bear populations increase slowly. Female bears do not reproduce until they are between three and eight years of age and they produce small litters, with many years between each litter. Not all of the cubs survive to adulthood. That is why every bear must count, and why it may take a decade for a female bear to replace herself in the population. And the threats to their survival are many, including poachers, ranchers and state wildlife agencies who continually target these animals and kill them over fear and exaggerated claims that they kill cattle—claims we debunked using USDA data.

In its report, the USFWS pointed to tremendous threats grizzlies continue to face, including “limited habitat connectivity, management of access by motorized vehicles, human-caused mortality and uncertainty surrounding future conservation efforts in some ecosystems.”

The USFWS report also correctly recognized that the long-term survival of grizzly bears depends on establishing populations in parts of their historic range where they remain absent, like Washington’s North Cascades and Idaho’s Bitterroot ecosystem. We urge the USFWS to follow through by developing a comprehensive plan to achieve a truly interconnected, recovered population of grizzly bears.

States that are home to these bears should be doing all they can to protect them but instead they have chosen to sell them out to trophy hunting interests. We recently told you about Montana’s state legislature passing a host of bills in anticipation of a federal delisting. Those bills would have, among other atrocities, allowed ranchers to shoot grizzly bears they “perceived” as a threat to their livestock. They included measures such as barring the relocation of grizzly bears to promote their recovery.

These bills also allow hound-hunting of black bears in early spring and expanding wolf snaring and trapping, which could also harm grizzly bears and cubs. Fortunately, continuing federal protection will shield grizzlies from some of the worst impacts of these bills if they become law.

The Montana and Wyoming delegations in Congress are also engaged now in efforts to delist these bears—a shortsighted approach because grizzly bears and other wildlife contribute heavily to these states’ economies, with thousands of tourists flocking there each year to catch a glimpse of these animals in the wild.

We are encouraged by the USFWS recommendation today, but so long as these other threats to grizzly bears continue our work is far from done. You can rest assured we will keep a vigilant eye and continue to work hard to ward off efforts by bad state legislators, wildlife managers and members of Congress to hurt these iconic animals.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

26 Grizzlies Captured, 18 Euthanized in Wyoming Last Year

26 Grizzlies Captured, 18 Euthanized in Wyoming Last Year


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The Wyoming Game and Fish Department captured 26 grizzly bears and euthanized 18 of them throughout 2020.

The department detailed the capture of the bears in its annual report on bear captures, relocations and removals in northwest Wyoming.

Over 2020, the department captured 26 bears in 27 different events (one bear was captured twice) in an attempt to prevent or resolve conflicts. Of the 26 bears capture, 18 were male and eight were female.

Over the year, 13 captures were a result of a bear killing livestock (primarily cattle) and the other 13 were related to bears obtaining food rewards or frequenting developed sites, the report said.×250&!2&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=LJLGGNpd0W&p=https%3A//

Of the captures, 15 took place in Park County, more than half. Five were in Sublette County, three were in Fremont County and two each were in Hot Springs and Teton counties.

The nine bears that were relocated were released on U.S. Forest Service lands in Park, Teton and Fremont counties, according to the report.

One bear was captured twice. The grizzly was captured first in July in Teton County and moved to Park County. After being captured a second time in Park county in August, the bear was euthanized, in part because of its aggressive behavior.

Bears are euthanized if they have a history of conflicts with humans, a known association with humans or they are deemed unsuitable to live in the wild.

The report detailed all 27 of the captures, which began in April and wrapped up in November.

According to a previous report July 27 to Aug. 21, six different grizzlies were captured southeast of the Moran Junction, with five of them being collared.

Information from the collared grizzlies provides data on survival, reproduction, distribution, habitat use and movements of the population.

Each summer, Game and Fish Department biologists and other researchers conduct grizzly bear observation flights to document grizzly numbers, distribution and reproduction. These observation flights have been conducted in the greater Yellowstone area since the 1990s.

This article was first published by The Cowboy State Daily on 16 February 2021.

Jet hits brown bear mom, cub while landing in Alaska

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Guinea’s Conde says there is no ‘witch hunt’ against opponentsKylie Bunbury explores ‘Blackness in a very white’ Montana in ABC thriller…Jet hits brown bear mom, cub while landing in Alaska

In a first in Alaska Airlines history, a jet struck and killed a brown bear while landing Saturday, officials said.a large brown bear walking across a grass covered field© Provided by RADIO.COM

The Boeing 737-700 was landing at the Yakutat Airport in southeast Alaska when it struck both the mother and her cub, killing the mother and leaving the 2-year-old cub undamaged. None of the passengers or crew were injured.Works with every tool – Learndash Is OverkillUpload CaptivateEmbed RiseiFrame iSpringUpload

According to Associated Press, although airport crew members had cleared the runway about 10 minutes before the flight was expected to land the jet landed in the dark and the staff didn’t see any signs of wildlife during their normal checks.

Only until after landing did the pilot spot the two bears, just as the jet slowed.

“The nose gear missed the bears, but the captain felt an impact on the left side after the bears passed under the plane,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement.

The pilots saw the bear lying about 20 feet (6 meters) from the center of the runway as the plane taxied to a parking area just before 6:30 p.m., the airline said.

The airport crew is accustomed to dealing with wildlife, plants have reportedly hit deer, geese, and caribou in the post, but never a bear. Employees are known to use pyrotechnics or vehicles to keep animals away from the runway.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was expected to collect the remains of the bear.

The left engine cowling of the jet was damaged, and the plane remained in Yakutat Sunday.

“Our maintenance technicians are working to repair the plane, which will take a couple of days,” Alaska Airlines said.

“Man Attacks Grizzly” and Other Leading Bleeding Stories

July 26, 2020

|David Mattson

My Google Alerts inbox has been flooded during the last week by an article making the rounds among national and regional media outlets with a title that virtually screams “Official: 7 Grizzly Bear Attacks This Year.” More matter-of-factly, the article leads off with the observation that “Wildlife officials have documented seven grizzly bear encounters resulting in injuries so far this year in the three-state greater Yellowstone region…” The article was authored by Mike Koshmrl, a journalist from Jackson, Wyoming, and subsequently circulated by the Associated Press.

I’m not altogether sure what motivated this article other than the perhaps obvious fact that 7 human injuries prior to the end of July is indeed a record for the greater Yellowstone area. Even so, the article comports with the tired truism that “if it bleeds, it leads,” in the somewhat dubious tradition of a seemingly endless series of books with titles such as “Bear Attacks” (times three), “Bear Attacks of the Century,” “Mark of the Grizzly,” “Bear Attacks: The Deadly Truth,” “True Stories of Bear Attacks,” ad nauseam. Sensationalized stories about grizzly bears “attacking” people never seem to exhaust the interest of either journalists or the public.

The central problem with this genre of journalism is that, while it may indeed be “news,” readers are rarely provided with a useful and realistic orientation to both grizzly bears and the risks of recreating and living among them. As such, the question inevitably arises whether this sort of semi-torrid journalism serves the public interest—the standard by which the Fourth Estate is putatively judged—or whether it is simply about making money.

Leaving this troubling question aside for the moment, Mike Koshmrl’s recent article on “bear attacks” exhibits three seminal and persistent problems typical of its genre. For one, the reported incidents are not put in context of actual risk. For another, details relevant to understanding the reactions of involved bears are rarely provided, much less usefully interpreted. And, finally, the semantics are universally troubling and inflammatory. So taking each of these issues in turn…

You Are Safer In Grizzly Bear Habitat Than You Are Crossing the Street

I recently waded through all of the data I could find (some of which I collected myself) pertaining to risks incurred by people on foot while recreating or living among grizzly bears, including risks of having a close encounter with a grizzly, experiencing an aggressive reaction, and, worst of all, being injured as a result. I reported what I came up with in a recent publication entitled “Effects of Pedestrians on Grizzly Bears.”

Without being exhaustive, these are the key results:

The odds of someone on foot being charged during a close encounter with a grizzly bear are small, even under conditions where bears are likely to be more reactive. In more open habitats with lower grizzly bear population densities typical of interior North America, 6% of documented close encounters resulted in some form of aggression by the involved bear, although much of this result was driven by a single study area where food-conditioned bears were implicated. Without this study, the percent of close encounters typified by aggression dropped to 4.5%.

Under all other circumstances, odds of people experiencing an overtly aggressive response from a grizzly were essentially nil, notably in Scandinavia, and so small as to not warrant direct study in most coastal areas of North America where people are concentrated in predictable locations at predictable times. As an example, Larry Aumiller reported only 8 “intense charges” during 21 years of close interactions with grizzly bears concentrated at McNeil River Falls in Alaska.

The odds that someone on foot will be mauled during a close encounter with a free-ranging grizzly bear are likewise so small as to almost defy calculation. For example, in Scandinavia where researchers directly approached brown bears (the same species as our grizzly) on literally hundreds of occasions, overt aggression was never documented, much less an attack. The same more-or-less holds true for coastal study areas in North America centered on areas of concentrated human activity along or near salmon spawning streams.

The best estimates for odds of injury during a close encounter with a grizzly bear in interior regions of North America come from Glacier National Park and from amalgamating results from multiple studies elsewhere. In Glacier, only 6 of 1000 encounters resulted in human injury. Everywhere else, only 3 in 1000 did. Kerry Gunther estimated an even lower 1 in 200,000 chance of injury for backcountry campers in Yellowstone National Park, although he calculated these odds based on total number of registered overnight users rather than on a per encounter basis.

Even so, managers and backcountry users are often interested in knowing the odds that an aggressive reaction by a grizzly bear—rather than just simply a close encounter—will result in human injury, realizing that odds of an aggressive reaction are small in the first place. With that proviso, roughly 6-8% of aggressions resulted in injury to a person on foot in interior regions of North America outside of Glacier National Park. In Glacier Park that figure was around 6-14%, depending on how aggression was defined by investigators.

Otherwise, as with aggressive reactions in general, encountering a grizzly bear in areas used less intensively by people is more hazardous for those involved, presumably because these encounters are more often registered by the involved bears as unpredictable threatening events. For example, given a confrontation, injuries were nearly 10-times more likely off-trail and 4-times more likely on low-use trail compared to on high-use trails in Glacier National Park.

Or, putting all of this another way, as a person on foot you are more likely to experience aggression, be attacked, and be injured upon encountering a strange dog—or even a car on a street—than you are wandering around among grizzly bears.

Surprise Encounters Lead to Defensive Reactions

So, what about the particulars relevant to understanding motivations of aggression from a grizzly bear? Adequate coverage of this topic would clearly fill a book—for example Steve Herrero’s seminal analysis of bear attacks in his book entitled…”Bear Attacks.” I also cover many of these particulars in the report I referenced earlier.

As a basic premise, though, there are three near-universal features of close encounters with grizzly bears that lead to aggression: (1) the bear is surprised at close quarters; (2) the bear is a female protecting her young; (3) the bear is guarding or perhaps appropriating food that it considers to be its own. The instances involving predation or maliciousness are a vanishing small minority of the total. None of this should surprise someone who has spent much time around grizzly bears, or animals of any sort for that matter—including parrots.

With these basics in mind, what about the grizzly bear-human encounters that resulted in injury this year—not just in the Yellowstone, but throughout the Northern Rockies? There have, in fact, been nine so far: 7 in Yellowstone and 2 in the Northern Continental Divide. And the pattern is strikingly consistent and clear.

In all cases the injuries resulted from close encounters that surprised the involved bear. No anomaly there. In fact, two of the incidents were triggered by the involved person almost literally colliding with the surprised bear—once involving a mountain biker and once involving a trail runner. Perhaps even more egregiously from the bear’s perspective, in two instances the involved person startled a bear that was bedded down—tantamount to entering someone’s bedroom unannounced. Four of the incidents involved females defending their young. No anomaly there. Six of the 9 incidents involved people who were alone. No anomaly there either. And finally, four of the incidents involved people who were off trail. Not surprising at all.

In other words, all of the human injuries this year were the result of a bear defending itself against a perceived attack or proximal threat. What’s truly surprising is that all the involved people managed to escape alive and, with the notable exception of the mountain biker, sustaining only minor injuries. This is, as always, perhaps the most remarkable feature of incidents where a grizzly bear attacks a person. Grizzlies are powerful. I’ve seen a number of instances where a grizzly bear took down and killed full-grown moose and elk. Grizzlies are almost never out to kill a person. They are almost always defending themselves, their space, their offspring, or a prized food. And they almost always show remarkable restraint in the process.

Some Reflections on Personal History

I haven’t kept a tally of my own close encounters with grizzlies, including instances where most people would have said they were “attacked.” Several of these encounters arose from unintentionally surprising bears in daybeds. Several involved females with offspring. Shear good luck or benevolence on the part of the bear prevented me from being included at some point on the list of people injured by a grizzly.

But I’ve never carried a gun, nor have I wanted to. I’ve concluded that being safe around grizzly bears is, if anything, contingent on being emotionally grounded, aware of my surroundings, attuned to unfolding situations and–as always–carrying pepper spray for last ditch self-defense. But there are no guarantees, just as there are no guarantees when I get behind the wheel of a car and head out on the highway.

To be honest, I’ve known bears that ended up killing people. But each of these bears had a back story. Thanks to human negligence, one had become used to eating food from campgrounds and off of people’s back porches. Another had routinely obtained food from backcountry campsites. Yet another had been pushed beyond the limits of endurance by a photographer—at the end of an acutely stressful year that involved the loss of two cubs.

My main point is straight-forward. In all of my immediate personal experience, grizzly bears have been aggressive only to the extent they were trying to defend themselves against a perceived threat or, on very rare occasions, perhaps out of rage at being trapped, immobilized, anesthetized, man-handled, tattooed, collared, and released, minus a tooth, in a semi-somnolent and acutely vulnerable state. In other instances, bears have pushed boundaries, sometimes tragically, to see if there might be a food reward, often because of past experiences where food had been obtained.

None of these bears was malicious or aberrant. And in every instance, human choices and behaviors were major factors in determining whether interactions were benign…or not.                       

Humans Are Attacking Grizzly Bears

Returning to this year’s human injuries, what we seem to have had is a series of incidents where the involved people were, by all reasonable standards, actually attacking the involved bear. The victims were out minding their own business trying to make a living, trying to take a nap, or trying to insure their offspring survived cub-hood, only to be attacked out of the blue by a human. “Bear Defends Itself Against Attacking Human.” Or, at least, that’s how the incidents would have been reported in a media outlet run by grizzly bears serving a grizzly bear audience.

Without belaboring the point, language matters. Narratives matter, especially when tacitly constructing culpability and blame. And we humans seem to take full advantage of our ability to broadcast narratives of victimhood as suits the purpose, especially in our relations with animals that lack our capacity for language.

In fact, “attack” bespeaks motivation and even criminality. Media articles that report on crimes frame events in terms of attacks by perpetrators intent on harming victims. An “attack” by a grizzly bear—whatever the circumstance or motivation—thus becomes a criminal act regardless of whether the journalist intends it to be read as such.

The upshot of articles such as the recent one making its rounds in the media is that people end up with an increasingly distorted view of grizzly bears and of the risks of living with them. …

Rare white grizzly bear captured on camera in B.C. park

ByAmy Judd Global NewsPosted July 21, 2020 7:51 pm Updated July 21, 2020 8:01 pmNews: Rare white grizzly bear spotted in B.C.’s Yoho National Parkclose video video has surfaced of a rare white grizzly bear that’s been spotted in B.C’s Yoho National Park.

A rare white grizzly bear has been sighted by the side of the road in a B.C. park.

Oly Talens was driving through Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies on their way to Takakkaw Falls when a flash of white through the trees forced them to pull over and pull out a video camera.

Turns out, the animal, named Nakoda by locals, has been seen before in Yoho and Banff national parks, but not very often.

READ MORE: Concerns raised as people crowd rare white grizzly in Banff and Yoho parks

Parks Canada has previously said the bear is not albino, but actually a natural colour phase variation that makes it white.

The animal, believed to be about three and a half years old, can be seen in the video with its brown sibling.STORY CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“They said seeing a grizzly up close in the wild is lucky, but two at the same time — and the (second) one is a rare white bear — is like winning a lotto ticket,” Talens said.

Parks Canada had to put out a statement following other sightings of the unusual bear, reminding the public to consider not stopping if they see wildlife as they travel through the parks, or, if safe to stop, to always stay in their vehicles and give the animal space.

“Bears and other wildlife that become comfortable around people and roadsides are at greater risk of being struck by a vehicle,” the agency said.0:38Rare white ‘spirit’ bear spotted with cub in B.C.Rare white ‘spirit’ bear spotted with cub in B.C.

Lawsuit threatened over about-face on grizzly reintroduction

by GENE JOHNSON Associated PressWednesday, July 15th 2020AA

FILE – In this May 26, 2020, file photo, a grizzly bear roams an exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo, closed for nearly three months because of the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle. Grizzly bears once roamed the rugged landscape of the North Cascades in Washington state but few have been sighted in recent decades. The federal government is scrapping plans to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — A conservation group is threatening to sue the Trump administration over its sudden reversal of plans to restore grizzly bears in the North Cascade mountain range of Washington state.

The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter Wednesday giving notice that it intends file a federal lawsuit in 60 days unless the Interior Department resumes its efforts to reintroduce the apex predator.

The group said the Endangered Species Act mandates the bears’ recovery.

The administration scrapped the plans this month, saying local residents made clear they opposed having more grizzlies in the region.

Feds scrap plans to reintroduce grizzlies to North Cascades

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated PressPublished: July 7, 2020, 12:10pmShare: 

A grizzly bear Photo copyright Jim Robertson

SPOKANE — The federal government on Tuesday decided to scrap plans to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem in Washington state.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt told a meeting of community members in Omak, Washington, that his agency will not conduct the environmental impact statement needed to move forward with the plan.

“The Trump Administration is committed to being a good neighbor, and the people who live and work in north central Washington have made their voices clear that they do not want grizzly bears,” Bernhardt said in a news release.

“Grizzly bears are not in danger of extinction, and Interior will continue to build on its conservation successes managing healthy grizzly bear populations across their existing range,” he said.

The decision was hailed by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, who represents the region in Congress.

“Homeowners, farmers, ranchers, and small business owners in our rural communities were loud and clear: We do not want grizzly bears in North Central Washington,” Newhouse said. “I have long advocated that local voices must be heard by the federal government on this issue.”

The Department of the Interior began planning the environmental review process in 2015 under the Obama administration.

The recovery of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states is an amazing success story, the agency said. Most of the efforts have focused on six areas of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and eastern Washington state.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has been the primary focus of grizzly recovery efforts to date, and grizzly populations have increased to about 700 bears there since the animals were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975.

The environmental group Conservation Northwest was disappointed by the decision, but did not think it was the final word on the bears.

“We are still confident they will be restored there,” spokesman Chase Gunnell said.

Gunnell said 80% of the people who provided public comments on the bears supported growing the population by bringing grizzlies to the back country in and around North Cascades National Park.

Gunnell said it was false that local residents overwhelmingly oppose reintroduction of the bears.

“This is not an issue that has just west side support,” Gunnell said, referring to more populous and liberal western Washington. “Public support is strong.”

Fewer than 10 grizzlies are thought to live across 9,800 square miles anchored by North Cascades National Park, Conservation Northwest said.

Given their isolation from other grizzly populations, the low number of bears, their very slow reproductive rate and other constraints, the North Cascades grizzly bear population is considered the most at-risk bear population in the United States, the environmental group said.

Grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species in 1975. They have slowly regained territory and increased in numbers in the ensuing decades, but they still occupy only a small portion of their historical range.

An estimated 50,000 bears once roamed the contiguous U.S. Government-sponsored programs led to most being poisoned, shot and trapped by the 1930s.

How grizzly bears have learned to live with humans

Bears shifted their behaviour to be more nocturnal and avoid people, study found

Sherry Noik · CBC News · Posted: Jul 06, 2020 3:00 PM ET | Last Updated: 9 hours ago

Grizzly bears in Canada have developed an adaptation behaviour that lets them continue living near humans yet reduce their interaction with us, according to decades of research into their behaviour.

In areas where bears and humans coexist, there are often policies in place to protect bear populations while safe-guarding people’s lives. But it turns out the bears are also helping their own cause.

A team of researchers from B.C. and Alberta pooled data on the movements, habitat use and mortality rates of 2,669 grizzly bears over 41 years to examine how they survived when living in or near human-dominated areas.

The researchers found that even as humans encroached further and further into the animals’ habitats, the bears didn’t necessarily shy away from people, but instead gradually shifted their behaviour to become more active at night, when they would be less likely to come into contact with them.

The data was compiled from an area of 378,191 square kilometres predominantly in B.C., which has an estimated 15,000 grizzlies — more than half of Canada’s grizzly bear population.

The research was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Better survival by becoming nocturnal

Typically, bears in the wilderness spend about half their time in daylight and half under cover of darkness, said study co-author Clayton T. Lamb, who is affiliated with the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia and the University of Montana.

But by increasing their “nocturnality” by two to three per cent each year, bears living in “coexistence landscapes” — in proximity to people — also increased their survival rate by two to three per cent per year. This led the researchers to conclude that the shift to more nighttime activity was induced by humans. 

The older the bears got, the more nocturnal they became, starting from the age of three onward, to the point where the bears observed in the study reached at least 60 per cent nocturnality, and most of them 70 per cent or more.

Younger bears and those that didn’t adopt the behaviour didn’t do as well.

“If you could learn to live there, you could do OK,” Lamb said in an interview. “A lot of bears don’t switch fast enough and they end up dying.”

Three grizzly bears are captured on a motion sensor camera feasting on an animal left in an open roadkill pit in B.C. (Clayton T. Lamb )

Grizzlies are “integral” to maintaining a healthy ecosystem, the B.C. government says. But their survival is at risk, according to both the provincial Conservation Data Centre and the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The biggest threat to bears? People.

B.C. banned grizzly bear hunting in 2017. In the decades prior to that, the province’s statistics found an average of 340 grizzly bears died from “human causes” each year — most killed by hunters, but about 30 were killed by animal control as a result of conflicts with humans.

Better for bears, better for humans

This shift to nocturnal behaviour is not only better for the bears, it’s better for humans, because it reduced the number of conflicts between the species, the study said.

Looking at the records of conflicts with 45 individual bears who were fitted with GPS collars, the researchers found there was about a 71 per cent lower chance of conflict with one of them at least once a year if the bears were more active at night than during the day.

“There’s more conflict where there’s more people, obviously,” Lamb said. “But bears that were more nocturnal were always in less conflict, regardless of how close they were to people. 

“Bears are helping to shape that landscape to benefit themselves.”

Nonetheless, bears are still on the losing side of the equation. 

Even though a majority of adult female bears in the area have become more nocturnal and are breeding successfully, they are dying in numbers too high to maintain their population.

For every bear that becomes a successful “coexister,” 29 die prematurely, the research found. They have to rely on “immigrant” bears from nearby wilderness areas to keep thriving.

This isn’t the first time animals have been observed shifting their schedules. A 2018 analysis of dozens of studies covering 62 species, including brown and black bears, found animals increased their nocturnality “in response to human disturbance.” 

But Lamb said the four decades of research on bears brings the whole picture into focus: the extent of the risk they face from living near people, the adaptation that helps them survive and the need for “demographic rescue” via bear immigration to sustain their numbers. 

“The next steps in all this research is really the applied aspect — what can we do with this information to make the landscape work better for people and carnivores,” Lamb said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For podcast updates and more on Grizzly Bear Foundation’s work to protect the grizzly bear, visit grizzcast.grizzlybearfoundation.com

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

May 20, 2020


Louisa Willcox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are We Fighting About? Wyoming and State Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washing Dishes: Binding or Voluntary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper vs. Real Bears and the Counting Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shattering Records of Grizzly Deaths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Could Have Been: Adequate Regulatory Mechanisms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Of Commonsense and The Court of Public Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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