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.

North Cascades Grizzly Letter

Dear Editor,

Bushwhacking through a trail-less valley in the heart of North Cascades, I came across some enormous tracks and a huge pile of scat that, having not seen their maker, I attributed to either Bigfoot or a grizzly bear. But that was over 35 years ago and I haven’t seen hide nor hair, nor heard of many sightings of either of them since then.

I hate to tell Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, but a “conservation ethic” is something we should have before a species is hunted and trapped practically to extinction and is in need of augmentation—as is the case with Washington’s grizzly bears. Now that would be a real success story. And the few hundred specimens in the Greater Yellowstone area do not add up to a recovered species for the lower 48.

Yet, no sooner did our current Administration remove the imperiled bears from the Threatened Species List did the state of Wyoming set a plan to hunt 24 grizzlies this fall season. Meanwhile, Idaho, with an even lower population of grizzly bears, felt they could sacrifice one to five of them to trophy hunting, if only to get their goose-stepping foot in the door on the issue.

It’s worth noting that B.C. recently banned trophy hunting of grizzlies, and Montana has not yet made plans for a sport hunt on that species. The question for Washington is, which neighbors will we emulate now that the bears have lost their ESA protections?

And what’s next for the Northwest, a trophy hunt on Sasquatch? Believe me, you don’t want that smelly hominid hide hanging on your wall—not if you ever want to have house-guests.

Jim Robertson


Will Grizzlies Return To Central Idaho?


March 12, 2018 03:53 PM

Updated March 19, 2018 03:09 PM

Grizzly bears may soon be helicoptered into North Cascades


Ancient groves of Douglas fir trees still stand in North Cascades National Park. The little-visited park — it receives less than one percent of the annual visitation of Yellowstone — can resemble the misty, prehistoric woods before the Pacific Northwest was settled. Wolverines, cougars, moose, and hundreds of other species of animals dwell here, living among ponds and beneath towering, pinnacled mountains.

But although these woodlands in Washington State were also once rich in grizzly bears, the park hasn’t confirmed spotting any in years. After being thoroughly hunted, there may be none left.

“Without help, that population will not recover on its own,” Frank van Manen, head of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), said in an interview.

The nation’s top wildlife managers have been planning to recover grizzly bears in North Cascades since 1991. The process, though, is intensely bureaucratic, requiring years of evaluations, re-evaluations, and proposals (some of which are hundreds of pages long).

Now, though, after more than 20 years of research, it might actually happen.

The recovery plan recently gained a powerful supporter: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke traveled to the verdant park on March 23 to announce the restarting of recovery planning.

“The loss of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades would disturb the ecosystem and rob the region of an icon,” said Zinke.

Grizzly reintroduction planning abruptly halted in December 2017, with no clear explanation why.

Lupine blooms in a North Cascades National Park meadow.

Image: National Park Service/O’Casey

Zinke’s enthusiasm for recovering grizzlies took many people — both those who support and oppose federal conservation efforts — by surprise.

Last year, Zinke made the controversial recommendation to President Donald Trump that Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be dramatically reduced in size. Trump then proceeded to slash the size of this fossil-rich land, previously protected by former President Barack Obama, by over one million acres (an over 80 percent reduction).

But Zinke maintained that grizzly bear recovery is part of “continuing our commitment to conservation.”

He may have been swayed by the expanse and wildness of the North Cascades region. There aren’t many places left to recovery grizzly bears, and North Cascades is as good as it gets. The park is surrounded by national forests on three sides and several Canadian territorial parks adjoin the park to the north.

“It’s a tremendously wild area,” Chris Servheen, the former Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an interview. “There’s a tremendous amount of grizzly bear habitat.”

Recovering grizzly bears in the North Cascades means transporting bears from British Columbia into the park. According to the park’s plans, the bears will be helicoptered in, as that’s the only way to access extremely remote areas in a mostly roadless place.

There are four different options on the table right now, detailed in the park’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). One option, which Zinke apparently opposes, is doing nothing. If so, the remaining few bears will die out. The other three options propose restoring grizzly bear populations to approximately 200 individuals during the next 25, 60, or 100 years.

Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park.
Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park.

Image: Andy Porter/National Park Service

Helicoptering sedated bears to their homes in the deep backwoods of North Cascades, then, isn’t just a logistical challenge. It requires a long-term commitment from wilderness managers from multiple agencies. It’s also pricey.

“A well-funded project that has a broad base of public and political support can do the job,” Stephen Herrero, professor emeritus in animal behavior and ecology at the University of Calgary, said in an interview.

“It ain’t easy — but it sure is possible,” he said.

A shining example of where successful bear recovery has occurred is in Yellowstone National Park. In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the population of 136 bears there as endangered, but the population has since grown to around 700 bears today. These bears were taken off the endangered species list last year.

North Cascades, with few bears left (perhaps none), may have a significantly more difficult hill to climb. Fortunately, decades of successful — and at times unsuccessful — bear management in Yellowstone show how it can be done.

“We have the tools in our toolbox to recover grizzlies in the North Cascades,” said Severheen. “We know how to do that.”

A critical factor, learned from Yellowstone, is keeping grizzly mothers alive.

“Ultimately, grizzly bear populations thrive or decline depending on the survival of adult females,” said van Manen.

A sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park.
A sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park.

Image: National Park service

Even into the early 1980s in Yellowstone, grizzly bear populations were declining. “There were too many adult females dying,” said van Manen. This was occurring in large part because bears were getting into garbage dumps, and they became habituated to humans, which then created conflicts with people. Many of these bears had to be killed.

But park managers solved these problems, and many others, including by encouraging cattle ranchers with allotments next to the park to voluntarily give up this leased land.

Although North Cascades and the surrounding forests provide a massive expanse of territory to reintroduce bears, some aren’t pleased with the government’s bear recovery plans.

The local Board of Skagit County Commissioners, have repeatedly opposed the grizzly introduction, citing public safety concerns. A spokesperson for the commissioners said none were available for comment.

Some ranchers are also concerned about grizzly bears in the area — and not just because bears that roam outside the park might eat some cattle.

“Reintroducing as many as 200 man-eating predators into an area already reeling from exploding gray wolf populations is anything but neighborly,” Ethan Lane, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association federal lands executive director, said in a statement.

A Yellowstone grizzly bear eating a bison carcass.
A Yellowstone grizzly bear eating a bison carcass.

Image: National Park SErvice

Coming across a grizzly in the vast North Cascades wilderness, however, is unlikely. This is especially the case during the first decade, when 10 or 15 bears might be wandering the woods.

“We’re talking thousands of square miles of country,” said Severheen. “People won’t even know they’re in there.”

Additionally, bears “are the ultimate omnivores,” said van Manen. They eat almost anything in the wild: Fish, berries, grass — but humans are not part of a bear’s diet.

Nor do bears seek out people (unless they’ve been attracted to something like a food dump).

“Anybody that spends much time in grizzly bear country recognizes that there is a pretty low probability of having an interaction with bears,” said Severheen.

The Interior Department says that the final EIS draft will be released in late summer 2018. It will consider 126,000 public comments. From there, the Park Service and its management partners will pick one of the recovery options.

Recovering a fallen icon of the American West is bold, expensive, and will inevitably have its opponents. But national parks are required to conserve these places as they naturally exist, and grizzly bears are an integral part of this environment.

“There should be recovery in the North Cascades,” said Severheen.

Healing the Earth Holistically

Our planet is sick–you can call it a biodiversity crisis, the Sixth Mass Extinction, or the un-weaving of the great web of life–and its getting sicker by the minute. That’s why a holistic approach to healing this once vibrant and thriving heavenly body is the only sure way to save her.

While environmentalism usually addresses stand-alone issues (like what color to paint the town so the bats aren’t kept awake), it seems “conservation” isn’t called into play these days until a species of plant or animal is on its last legs.

For example, the re-introduction of locally nearly extinct grizzly bears to Washington’s North Cascades—hailed by the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke as a “conservation success story”—is practically a too-little-too-late band-aid sort of tactic employed long after destructive human activities like hunting, trapping and even poisoning have pretty much wiped them out, and subsequent human expansion has gobbled up their habitat.

I hate to tell Secretary Zinke, but “conservation” is something you should do before a species is down to its last estimated or imagined 10 individuals. Admittedly, I did come across some enormous tracks and scat in an avalanche chute in a trail-less valley within the heart of the North Cascades that, having not seen its maker, I attributed to either Bigfoot or a grizzly bear. But that was over 35 years ago, and I haven’t heard of too many sightings of either of them since then.

Single-issue actions and single-species, feel-good fixes only address small parts of the much bigger picture—first we need to curb the expansion of the one species at the root of all the Earth’s most pressing problems—namely, us.

Undeniably, Homo sapiens would have to go by the way-side for all the other life here on this planet to once again flourish, but that seems a small price to pay for finally putting things right and atoning for the many trespasses of the past. If humans are anywhere near as smart as they see themselves (or make themselves out to be), they’ll act now to right these countless wrongs and simply decline to reproduce, thereby eventually eliminating the one species that currently has this place so off-kilter and out of whack. With our species bowing out of the competitive breeding picture, it will take only a few lifetimes before the Earth is back on track to claim once again her living crown of glory.

Oh, I know it ain’t gonna happen, since humans will never willingly relinquish the Earth to its rightful owners. You’re more likely to see Bigfoot and a grizzly bear on unicycles juggling leprechauns, but we can always have pipe-dreams, can’t we?

Enjoy your ignorance people, because when we finally snap out of it, it’s going to be a rude awakening.

The NRA and the Safari Club Are Gunning for Grizzlies

The gun lobby and big-game hunters are teaming up to get the bears off the endangered species list. But that’s just a first step toward stealing public land.

About 40 years ago, my friend the author Edward Abbey gave me a National Rifle Association (NRA) sticker to paste on the back window of my pickup. After all, he’d been an NRA member for years and we both were hunters who supported gun rights and owned a number of firearms.

I never got around to putting that sticker on. In the rambling decades between then and now, Ed’s and my attitude toward guns didn’t change much. My feelings about the NRA, however, have chilled considerably.

Increasingly, the NRA has become the big boy who thinks he can run over anyone and dominate partisan issues—they are widely criticized by environmentalists and Democrats as bullies. And the issues are no longer just those of the Second Amendment, though gun rights remain a primary test of political loyalty. As reported in The New York Times last fall, the NRA is now focused on immigration, race, health care.

The NRA is also actively trying to influence wildlife and wilderness issues, which happens to be my center of interest. Last spring the NRA, welded at the hip with Safari Club International (a privileged group of mostly wealthy hunters dedicated to killing large and rare animals), backed a successful bill to permit extreme killing methods of wolves and grizzlies on national wildlife refuges in Alaska, including the gunning down of animals from planes and slaughtering wolf pups and bear cubs in their birthing dens.

These two lobbying groups oppose protecting the severely endangered California condors, which biologists believe are sickened and killed by poisonous lead bullet fragments left in the hunter-felled game animals that the scavenging birds eat. Yet the NRA and the Safari Club pooh-poohed the notion that ingesting lead fragments threatens condors and claimed instead that their human members “will be impaired if they are no longer able to shoot lead bullets.”

Similarly, the NRA and Safari Club recently supported a controversial trophy hunt for elephants in Zimbabwe, coinciding with the Trump administration’s decision to overturn an Obama-era ban on elephant trophies. Managed trophy hunting “would not have an adverse effect on the species,” the groups said, “but can further efforts to conserve the species in the wild.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to allow the import of elephant trophies was praised by both groups but drew harsh criticism from animal-rights advocates on all sides of the political spectrum.

 At this writing, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 3668, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act. Democrats Abroad said, “(SHARE) is a nightmare for human life, wildlife, and public lands. The bill is chock-full of anti-wildlife, anti-Endangered Species Act, and anti-public lands provisions that would undermine wildlife conservation and put imperiled species in greater danger.” Of course, the NRA got an easy-to-buy gun silencer deal stuck into this shithouse of a bill.

So, it was no surprise when the NRA and Safari Club asked to intervene in a lawsuit over the fate of Yellowstone National Park’s grizzly bear population. Their intent is to support the federal decision to remove the bears’ Endangered Species Act protections and allow trophy hunting of Yellowstone’s grizzlies.

Five NRA and Safari Club members said, in affidavits submitted by their attorneys, that hunting grizzlies would help the region’s economy, allow states to better manage the animals, and improve public safety. These five outfitters and big game hunters claim their interests would be harmed if they could not have the opportunity to hunt Yellowstone’s grizzlies.

The core argument is public safety: that hunting bears will make people safer by instilling in grizzlies a fear of humans. These groups claim that Yellowstone’s grizzlies have become too aggressive, and that a fear of people would make bears shy and more subordinate, thus benefiting public safety. The unexamined assumption is that bears learn by being shot at.

The success of the NRA and SCI’s argument, assuming the NRA and Safari Club are allowed to fully make their case in court, will depend on what the judges make of the scientific plausibility of the “shy” bear theory, and the bear-expertise credibility of the five witnesses who filed declarations.

I disagree strongly with the NRA and SCI’s contention that there is any credible evidence whatsoever that hunting makes grizzlies shy, wary of humans, and therefore less aggressive and safer around humans.

And there is legitimate doubt that trophy grizzly hunting around Yellowstone is, in truth, good for the economy, and or that the state management is more effective than federal oversight when it comes to endangered species like the grizzly bear.

Finally, I question the grizzly-expertise of the five men who submitted affidavits to the court. The shy bear argument, which I’ve been hearing in Montana bars for 50 years, is good-old-boy folklore. These men are no doubt competent backcountry professionals, but I do not believe that trophy hunting— especially the guided type characteristic of Safari Club hunting—makes one an “expert” on grizzly bears. My own encounters with wild bears have made me believe that, in fact, the opposite is true: The key to safely dealing with wild grizzlies is behaving non-aggressively.

Does Hunting Make Bears Fear Humans?                                                    

Grizzly bear biologist David Mattson, who worked for two decades with the federal Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Study Team, recently wrote an article in the Grizzly Times saying he had undertaken a “thorough review of the evidence (or lack thereof),” and found “no empirical support for this proposition. There is essentially no evidence that a sport hunt instills fear in grizzlies. The proposition also defies logic and everything that we otherwise know about grizzly bears. If nothing else, how can a dead bear learn anything?”

Mattson goes on to point out that there has been no research on the American grizzly and hunting: “Another important point to make up front is that we know virtually nothing about the behavioral and motivational responses of bears to hunting, certainly little that is grounded in research. The closest we come is a study out of Scandinavia showing that hunted brown bears increased their nighttime activity, with little obvious relevance to whether humans were thereby safer.”

What most bear expertsl agree on is that American brown bears are genetically inclined to deal aggressively with perceived threats; this is evolved behavior, presumably learned on the treeless periglacial of the Arctic during the Late Pleistocene, by mothers defending their cubs from many larger, now-extinct predators.

So the NRA and Safari Club theory that hunting—as a perceived threat—thereby installs fear in bears is counterintuitive. Mattson believes the reverse may be true, that “grizzlies can become less reactive to people, not as a result of heightened fear, but rather as a result of the opposite. These fundamentals alone call into question the logic of using hunting to increase human safety.”

My own 50 years of experience with Yellowstone’s wild grizzlies supports Mattson’s position.

Before 1968, I didn’t know squat about grizzly bears, despite having spent a summer in Alaska. Fresh home from two tours as a Green Beret medic in Vietnam, I had gone to Yellowstone to camp out and heal from a malaria attack. There, quite accidentally, I ran into a whole bunch of bears.

Here is one of my earliest encounters, from the preface of Grizzly Years:

“The big bear stopped thirty feet in front of me. I slowly worked my hand into my bag and gradually pulled out the Magnum. I peered down the gun barrel into the dull red eyes of the huge grizzly. He gnashed his jaws and lowered his ears. The hair on his hump stood up. We stared at each other for what might have been seconds but felt like hours. I knew once again that I was not going to pull the trigger. My shooting days were over. I lowered the pistol. The giant bear flicked his ears and looked off to the side. I took a step backward and turned my head towards the trees. I felt something pass between us. The grizzly slowly turned away from me with grace and dignity and swung into the timber at the end of the meadow. I caught myself breathing heavily again, the flush of blood hot on my face. I felt my life had been touched by enormous power and mystery.”

That was the last time I carried a firearm into grizzly country. I found you didn’t need them. I believe to this day that a gun will get you into more trouble than it will get you out of in bear habitat.

But inexperience continued to land me in the briar patch. In my early years, I got too close to grizzlies, over a hundred encounters where both the bear and myself noticed each other. I say “too close” because my intent was to not have the bears know I was around; in those situations, I stood my ground and the grizzlies usually—but not always—ran away.

Far more dangerously, I got charged by grizzlies a few dozen times, about half of them were serious encounters: typically mothers with cubs or yearlings, often from nearby daybeds where they were sleeping out the middle of days. This is the source of almost all human mauling by bears (carcasses are also dangerous); attacks are by mothers near or on daybeds where you can get too close and carelessly invade the space she feels she needs for her cub’s safety. The sow only cares for her cub’s safety. As long as you are perceived to be a threat, she will continue to charge and if you do anything stupid, like run or try to climb a tree, she may start chewing on you. If you fight back, the mother griz will keep attacking you until you are no longer seen as a threat to her young. You could die.

The advice to “play dead” during a grizzly attack is sound. Many a victim of a mauling saved his or her life by ceasing to resist the attack, by relaxing. Tough advice but it works. Remember, the mother grizzly isn’t there to hurt or kill you, just to make sure her cub is safe.

More than a dozen different sow grizzlies have aggressively charged me. (None completed her charge; no wild bear has ever touched me.) A few mother grizzlies started the charge, then quickly veered off and ran away without breaking stride. More often, charging bears came directly at me, and then skidded to a stop. One sow grizzly stopped so close (probably six feet) she appeared to lean forward and sniff my pant leg.

During the course of all these grizzly charges, my behavior was as non-aggressive as possible: I stood my ground without moving a muscle or blinking an eye; I looked off to the side (a frontal orientation can be confrontational to a grizzly). I also held my arms off to the side (to make yourself look bigger?) and talked softly to the bear, hoping to present no threat whatsoever to her cubs. It’s worked every time—so far.

“The time for these ceremonial executions is over. We lost our authenticity somewhere in the colonial past. We don’t need a Yellowstone grizzly hunt.”

My most recent encounter with a mother grizzly was last June, when my daughter and I were sheltering behind a Buick-sized huge boulder on a high butte in Yellowstone. It was our last hike together before I walked her down the aisle later that summer. It was a blustery, windy day; we couldn’t hear a thing. All of a sudden, the look on my daughter’s face changed and I followed her gaze. There, some 50 feet away, a mother grizzly and her yearling cub were coming over the top of the hillside.

We all saw each other at the same time. The mother bear quickly reared onto her hind legs, smacked her lips, slobbered, and looked all around. I whispered to Laurel, “Don’t move.” We never moved an inch. Eventually, after a few minutes, the bear calmed down. Then, the bears slowly walked past us and sat down on the edge of a cliff 30 feet away, where the mother began nursing the cub. This went on for about five minutes. The sow grizzly appeared to graze (it could have been displacement behavior, where the nervous mom just pretended to feed) along the lip of the cliff and the cub started to approach us, not unlike a curious puppy, coming way too close, maybe within 15 to 20 feet. I stopped his advance by flipping my palm, a gesture I made up in the moment, not knowing if it would work. Laurel quietly recorded a short piece of video on her phone. In the distance, I could hear the bellows and roars of a mating pair of grizzlies far below, indicating the female in front of us had likely retreated to this high ground to keep her cub away from aggressive male bears who sometimes kill them.

This moment was saturated with wild trust, and sharing it with Laurel etched it forever in my memory. Such intimate encounters with grizzlies are rare with inland bears, like the grizzlies in Glacier and Yellowstone parks, but it does happen along salmon streams in places like Alaska and British Columbia, where a mother grizzly once left her three cubs sitting next to me on the bank of the Nakinaw River while she went fishing, caught a salmon, and brought it back to her waiting cubs. The popular thinking on this is that bear mothers trust humans because male grizzlies tend to avoid us.

This spectrum of grizzly behavior hints at a deeper social structure than bears have previously been given credit for. All wild bears in a region appear to know each other and where they rank in a larger social hierarchy. Wild grizzlies are capable of responding to non-aggressive human behavior in surprising ways; we need to give them a chance. The simplistic notion that hunting and shooting grizzlies makes the bears fear humans is flat wrong. Probably David Mattson is right and the opposite is true.

Will Hunting Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bears Help the Region’s Economy?                                                      

There are a number of economic studies analyzing tourism in and around Yellowstone, revealing who spends the most money and why. The National Park Service informs us through its surveys that most Yellowstone visitors list viewing wildlife, especially grizzlies and wolves, as the primary reason for their visits. Mountain West News reported in August 2017 that “Yellowstone Park tourists spent (last year) an estimated $680 million in gateway communities in Montana and Wyoming.”

By contrast, proposed resident grizzly bear hunting licenses in Wyoming would cost $600 per season. It doesn’t sound like much of a comparison except for the small consolation that trophy bear hunters, like Safari Club members, tend to be well heeled and book the most expensive lodges.

Will the States Be Better than the Feds at Managing Bears?

The NRA and Safari Club’s argument that the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are better fit than the feds to manage trophy animals is disingenuous. It has nothing to do with wildlife management competency, and everything to do with their larger political agenda.

The first objective of these two trophy hunting groups is to kill grizzlies, and the states—especially Wyoming—will help them achieve this goal in record time. (In my own state, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has decided to put off a trophy grizzly hunt for 2018.)

My specific distrust of turning brown bear management over to the states arises from how notoriously slow the departments have been to investigate and prosecute obvious cases of poaching, protecting illegal killers who—when caught—claim they felt threatened in some way—the “self-defense” argument. Subsequent prosecution is slack or non-existent. To justify this lax enforcement, the state game managers say that if they prosecute poaching too aggressively, their sources of information about bear-mortality reporting will dry up. Still, if delisting survives its legal challenges and a hunting season is opened, illegal killing of grizzlies will become much easier (with or without a license) and will loom as the primary threat to Yellowstone’s entire bear population.

Far more transparent and important, I think, is the issue of public lands. The NRA and the Safari Club have not bothered to intervene in this regional hunting squabble because they believe the local state game departments of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho will better manage the region’s critters than would a federal agency.

I believe these national groups have become involved with the fate of grizzlies in order to serve a broader agenda: converting public land to private ownership. To put it bluntly, stealing the land that belongs to all of us and delivering it to the private sector for financial exploitation. They would auction off the vast wild lands of the Bureau of Land Management, national forests, and wildlife refuges, and open national monuments and even the national parks to resource extraction.

All public lands are threatened by this so-called “states rights” movement.: It’s not just the Yellowstone ecosystem and Bear’s Ears mesas that are imperiled, but also the underlying philosophy and concepts that made these places possible in the first place. The Wilderness, Endangered Species, and Antiquities acts are all under siege. The NRA and Safari Club agendas on wildlife and wilderness issues at their core are driven by the desire to dismantle our wild heritage.

The Problem with Grizzly Bear Experts

In the early ’80s, I served as an expert witness on grizzly bears for Glacier National Park in federal court. The judge asked me and the other expert witness how many (defined as different bears per day) grizzlies we had seen in our lives, and because I had watched grizzly bears at Yellowstone’s garbage dumps and at salmon streams as well as in berry patches and meadows, my answer was over a thousand. Does that make me an expert? Maybe for the purposes of that particular court, but otherwise I have my doubts. At the time, I let it go, not questioning the court’s opinion. But what teaches a person the most about grizzly behavior? Probably watching wild bears go about their natural business, without disturbing the animal’s activity? Nature is a great classroom. Salmon streams are good, but you can also learn a great deal by watching bears in meadows and berry patches. My own early education was slow, hampered by greenness and bear-illiteracy.

I’ve spent time with Yellowstone’s grizzlies each year for the past five decades, beginning in 1968. The first 15 years were the most intense, during which time I filmed bears full-time in the Yellowstone and Glacier National Park ecosystems. Typically, I’d spend the first six weeks of spring in Yellowstone, and then come back for October. The rest of the season, I filmed in Glacier and worked seasonal jobs for the park service.

Much of the time, I worked alone, lugging my heavy 16mm camera gear around in a backpack, camping in the backcountry for stretches of up to a couple weeks at a time.

The goal was to film wild grizzlies close up but not so close the bears would be spooked by the camera noise; I wanted to capture natural grizzly behavior without the bears becoming aware of my presence. Of course, I didn’t always succeed.

My strategy for finding grizzlies in Yellowstone was split between two general approaches: I could go out into good spring habitat, find a set of fresh bear tracks and follow them to where the grizzly was feeding. Sometimes, this took days of tracking to catch up with the bear. Compared with today, grizzlies were scarce in Yellowstone during the ’70s—something everyone agrees on.

The other, more efficient strategy was to set up on a hill or promontory where bears were likely to come by and just wait. It helped if there were winter-killed elk or bison carcasses nearby.

Using such methods, spread over three decades, I managed to sneak up on at least 200 unsuspecting grizzlies in and around Yellowstone and Glacier parks, to distances within about one hundred yards. Most of those approached were captured on film, which is now archived at Texas Tech.

Here I want to say something  about hunting. I don’t think dispatching brown bears with a weapon capable of bringing down a B-52 is very challenging. Because I could have shot any of those bears, I have always suspected grizzlies are easy to hunt. Easy, say, compared to black bears, who are spooky forest creatures and a test for a fair chase (no baits or dogs) hunter. Grizzlies, by contrast, are open country animals and their dominance at the top of the food chain means they don’t automatically run away.

But does tracking down a wild griz with a camera equate with trophy hunting? Absolutely not, as any Safari Club International member would point out. Why? I didn’t pull the trigger. There was no kill. Without the kill, there is no authentic hunt.

Here is a crucial distinction between me and trophy hunters. I don’t hunt predators. I wouldn’t shoot a bear for a cool million. I am not one of them.

Trophy Hunting

How do you justify killing an innocent animal of exceptional carriage that you don’t intend to eat and who poses no threat to you? A few trophy hunters try to answer this question; most see no problem, they kill the big grizzly or the lion with a huge mane just because they can. There are arguments: money for permits and licenses can be spent on conservation. You may trophy hunt because it runs in the family. Or because male archetypes like Teddy Roosevelt did it.

When we think of trophy hunters, the photo of Donald Trump Jr. holding a freshly severed elephant tail may come to mind, but I recognize a few other types, often deeply skilled in ways of the wild and dedicated to a fair chase. The ones I know tend to be bow hunters. These people are probably the exception: They know why they are out there and are grounded in their own ethic.

Of those Safari Club members who have shown any curiosity at all about their deadly sport, it’s probably fair to say the bulk have drawn their killer philosophies from mid-20th century sources, especially a little book called Meditations on Hunting, written in 1942 by Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, which is quoted so often in the literature of trophy hunting that it has assumed near-religious status.

Ortega tells us death is essential because without it there is no authentic hunting. In short, one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.

For Ortega’s privileged sportsman, the animal’s death is a “sign” that the hunt was “authentic” and “real.” This European view of killing and the hunt owes nothing to the roughly 300 thousand years of Homo sapiens wildlife experience: After all, we evolved our own human intelligence chasing animals all through the Pleistocene, in habitats whose remnants today we call the wilderness.

Throw in some colonial dominion over the beasts, a little Hemingway, and you find a tremendous amount of masculine bullshit in consideration of what constitutes an “authentic” experience in outdoor blood sports. Ortega celebrates the “exemplary moral spirit of the sporting hunter” who hunts for “diversion.” He looks down on the “utilitarian” hunter, like “Paleolithic man,” and “the poacher of any epoch” or individuals like myself who hunt for food.

For the record, I do hunt, mostly game birds and the occasional deer. I eat what I kill and have many guns. I don’t hunt predators on principal or trophy-sized animals (for practical and culinary reasons). Each year as I grow older, I find myself backing off a bit. But there is a legitimate debate in the bedrock question: Why do we hunt or, more specifically, why trophy hunt?

David Mattson has his suspicions: “Those who promote hunting as a means of increasing human safety are probably using the argument simply as cover for getting rid of grizzly bears that they see as an inconvenience or an affront to their personal ideologies… or promote hunting primarily as a means of inflating a shriveled ego through killing something as powerful as a grizzly bear.” Mattson continues, “Perhaps those promoting the sport hunting of grizzlies are doing so out of a visceral place of fear and a derivative need to dominate and subjugate anything that subjectively threatens them.”

Despite a few female members, groups like the Safari Club are rooted in masculine institutions of patriarchy and clanship. Within the fraternal organization, intense competition abounds. If your buddy bags a huge kudu or leopard head, you’d better get a bigger one. This deadly rivalry about who gets the best  trophy is regarded as either the purest form of sport, as seen by Safari Club, or one of the worst contests of our society, as viewed by people like myself. The payoff or price of the kill, in either case, is pretty much as Mattson suggests: a boost in the frail male ego.

My own feeling is that the time for these ceremonial executions is over. We lost our authenticity somewhere in the colonial past. We don’t need a Yellowstone grizzly hunt.

The man holding the cut-off elephant tail may take exception to Mattson’s musings, but we are decades down the road from the faded photos of TR’s rhino in 1909 or Hemingway’s lion shot in 1934. The year 2018 finds us much deeper into the climate change game than anyone wants to talk about and also smack dab in the early-middle of the 6th Great Extinction. These often endangered and expendable trophy creatures could use a break from recreational killing.

The first critters to go in a great extinction tend to be the big ones, especially the large rare mammals favored by trophy hunters. This endangered species list does not exclude two-legged primates; the hot winds of change are coming for us all.


Montana won’t recommend Yellowstone grizzly hunting this year

Grizzly bear (copy)

Grizzly bears were protected from hunting for mover 40 years while listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Public Domain/Neal Herbert via NPS

Not this year.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Thursday that it won’t ask the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to approve a hunting season for the recently delisted Yellowstone grizzly bears this year.

The bears were protected from hunting for more than 40 years while they were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Those protections were lifted in 2017, which opened the door for a potential hunting season. 

In a news release, FWP director Martha Williams said the decision is meant to reinforce the state’s commitment to the grizzly bear’s long-term survival.

“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long-term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” Williams said.

FWP will make the recommendation to its governing board at its next meeting Feb. 15.

The announcement comes weeks after Wyoming Game and Fish gained permission from its governing board to draw up grizzly bear hunting regulations, the first time since the 1970s that either state has had the legal authority to do so.

Removing Endangered Species Act protections for the bears gave more management responsibility to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Prior to the delisting, each state had to create a framework for a potential hunting season, which was included in the final conservation strategy.

Part of the strategy is meant to limit the number of bears that are killed by humans. It created a level of “discretionary mortality” based on a population estimate. An agreement lined out before delisting split the allowable bear deaths between the three states.

The official government estimate puts the Yellowstone grizzly population at about 700 bears. Greg Lemon, a spokesman for FWP, said the allowable deaths for the three states was calculated to be 17.

Wyoming gets most of the allowable deaths, with the numbers this year being 10 males and 1 female. Idaho’s allowance is one female. Montana’s allowable mortality is 0.9 females and 5.8 males.

Montana will still retain its portion of allowable deaths, meaning the numbers for the other two states would remain the same whether the state decides to hunt bears or not.

FWP cited the ongoing legal challenge to the delisting as another reason it didn’t want to propose a hunting season.

At least five separate lawsuits over the delisting were filed by environmental groups and Native American tribes. They argue the bears shouldn’t have been removed from the list because the animals still face threats from climate change and shifts in their diets that result in more human-bear conflict.

Trump halts effort to bring back Washington grizzlies

The Trump administration is suspending efforts to bolster the grizzly bear population in Washington’s North Cascades. That would leave this part of the mountain range with fewer than ten of the imperiled bears.

Recovery efforts have been underway for years, with a goal of reintroducing up to 200 grizzly bears. The North Cascades National Park Superintendent told a meeting in Montana last week that the Interior Department is halting the program, according to the Missoulian newspaper.

Conservation Northwest spokesman Chase Gunnell said the order to stop work is disappointing.

“We’re concerned if that is put on indefinite hold because these bears cannot wait indefinitely,” Gunnell said.

The Interior Department’s press office did not return requests for comment about the order to stop work on the plan.

The federal government has been reviewing the nearly 127,000 comments submitted on its proposal to bring back the bears to the region. One option suggested to do nothing — which biologists have said could lead to the bear’s extinction in the North Cascades. Three other options looked at different ways to bring grizzly bears in from British Columbia and Montana. Those options could take up to a century to reach 200 grizzlies in the region.

Conservationists have been pushing to bring the bears back to the rugged terrain. But some people who live on the forest edges adamantly opposed reintroduction efforts, including ranchers who worried about adding another large predator to the landscape.

At one time, grizzly bears roamed throughout the West. Just in Washington’s North Cascades there were thousands of them. But since the 1800s, their population has plummeted, due to excessive hunting and the fragmentation of habitat.

Biologists say the isolated parts of the North Cascades remain great bear habitat.

“These bears have been waiting for more than 20 years, and the population can’t wait that much longer,” Gunnell said.

Animal rights group hopes to appeal decision against judicial review of Wildlife Act

The fight is not over.

A year after the shooting of a baby bear, that’s what a group of animal advocates says after losing an attempt in court for a judicial review of the Wildlife Act.

The Fur-Bearers spokesperson, Lesley Fox, says the group is raising questions about Section 79, which states, “An officer may kill an animal, other than a domestic animal, that is at large and is likely to harm persons, property, wildlife or wildlife habitat.”

 Fox says while the group understands that a conservation officer has the authority to euthanize an animal if it poses a threat to public safety, they’re raising the question – what about when the animal is not posing a threat?

She explains, for example, an orphaned cub that was killed in Dawson Creek by a conservation officer last year because it was found to be malnourished, even while a rehabilitation centre was waiting to take it in.

“If lethal action isn’t necessary, and we argue specifically in this case with the little cub, there shouldn’t be lethal action and in fact, it should be the opposite. That every effort should be made to get these animals into care, to be evaluated by experts.”

READ MORE: Neighbourhood series: Being bear aware in the Tri Cities

“Certainly having an animal examined by an expert, or a veterinarian, who specializes in wildlife is a huge asset and let them determine whether or not it’s appropriate to rehab this animal. I think that decision needs to be taken out of the conservation officer service, and I think there needs to be sort of an independent third party expert or specialist.”

She says those wild animals should have every opportunity to be rehabbed and released back into the wild.

Fox says they’re investigating how to appeal the decision.

In a statement, the Ministry of Environment says that a conservation officer does not relish the thought of putting an animal down –  and that euthanization is a last resort.

It says conservation officers are guided by provincial wildlife policy, as well as their experience and expertise, to make decisions in the field every day; it adds the court decision affirms its understanding of the authorities granted to them under the Wildlife Act.