Trump administration appeals ruling that blocked grizzly bear hunts around Yellowstone

When the ruling came down in October, Wyoming and Idaho were on the cusp of hosting the first, public grizzly bear hunts in the Lower 48 U.S. states since 1991.
Image: Grizzly bear

A grizzly bear cub searches for fallen fruit beneath an apple tree a few miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana on Sept. 25, 2013.Alan Rogers / The Casper Star-Tribune via AP

By Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. government attorneys filed notice Friday that they are appealing a court ruling that blocked the first public hunts of grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies in decades.

The appeal challenges a judge’s ruling that restored threatened species protections for more than 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Protections for the animals had been removed in 2017. When the ruling from U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen came down in October, Wyoming and Idaho were on the cusp of hosting their first public hunts for grizzly bears in the Lower 48 U.S. states since 1991.

Federal biologists contend Yellowstone-area grizzlies have made a full recovery after a decades-long restoration effort. They want to turn over management of the animals to state wildlife agencies that say hunting is one way to better address rising numbers of bear attacks on livestock.

But wildlife advocates and the Crow Indian Tribe successfully sued to stop the hunts. Their attorneys persuaded Christensen that despite the recovery of bears in Yellowstone, the species remains in peril elsewhere because of continued threats from climate change and habitat loss.

The Yellowstone population has rebounded from just 136 animals when they were granted federal protections in 1975.

Grizzlies in recent years have returned to many areas where they were absent for decades. That has meant more dangerous run-ins with people, such as a Wyoming hunting guide who was killed this fall in a grizzly attack.

Christensen’s ruling marked the second time the government has sought to lift protections for Yellowstone bears only to be reversed in court.

The agency initially declared a successful recovery for the Yellowstone population in 2007. But a federal judge ordered protections to remain while wildlife officials studied whether the decline of a major food source — whitebark pine seeds — could threaten the bears’ survival.

The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded last year it had addressed that and all other threats.

There was speculation the agency would not appeal the latest ruling and instead draft a new proposal to get the animal off the threatened list.

That possibility was raised by the agency’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator during a meeting last month with Wyoming state lawmakers, according to the Powell Tribune.

Friday’s appeal signals that at least for now the court battle over grizzlies will grind on.

But Andrea Santarsiere with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the case before Christensen, said the government still has the option in coming months to dismiss the case.

“I think Fish and Wildlife should go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan to actually recover grizzly bears across the West, rather than a piecemeal approach,” she said.

Also pending before the 9th Circuit are appeals from parties that intervened on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Service. They include the states of Idaho and Wyoming and groups representing hunting interests, gun rights and agriculture.

Cody Wisniewski with the Mountain States Legal Foundation said that if allowed to stand, Christensen’s ruling could make it harder for other species to be taken off the threatened and endangered species list.

“Opinions like this move the goalposts,” he said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland referred questions about the case to the Department of Justice, which did not provide an on-the-record comment.

Beloved Yellowstone Wolf ‘Spitfire’ Killed By Trophy Hunter

The wild wolf, also known as 926F, died the same way her famous mother did in 2012.

A wild wolf beloved by wolf watchers and biologists who visit Yellowstone National Park has been shot dead by a hunter.

The 7-year-old female wolf, known to scientists as Lamar Canyon Wolf Pack member 926F, had wandered just outside Yellowstone last weekend and was legally killed by a trophy hunter.

Nicknamed “Spitfire” by wolf enthusiasts, the slain she-wolf was the daughter of famous alpha female 824F, who inspired the book American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.

824F ― best known as “06” (a reference to the year she was born) ― was a tourist favorite at Yellowstone and the leader of the Lamar Canyon pack until she was killed by a hunter in 2012.

926F, also known as "Spitfire," was killed by a hunter last month after wandering just outside Yellowstone National Park.

MARK PERRY VIA GETTY IMAGES
926F, also known as “Spitfire,” was killed by a hunter last month after wandering just outside Yellowstone National Park.

“The 06 Legacy,” a Facebook group for wolf lovers, honored 926F’s life in a Facebook post Wednesday.

“926F showed incredible strength, courage and resilience in everything she did,” the Facebook post says. “She had a special bond with her daughter Little T and they stayed together all these years.”

The post continued: “We had so much to celebrate when we saw five strong and healthy pups this fall. And now it took just one bullet and 926F is gone. Just like her mother 06 and her uncle 754M before her. With current wolf management practices, the tragedy just doesn’t end. … Rest In Peace our beautiful Queen.”

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed Spitfire was legally killed by a trophy hunter less than five miles from the northeast entrance of Yellowstone.

The beloved wolf’s death has reignited calls for a buffer around Yellowstone, a hunting-free zone, to protect animals who wander beyond the park’s invisible boundary.

“Perhaps Montana should take a closer look at the economics of wolf hunting,” the New York-based Wolf Conservation Center wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “Seems that Yellowstone wolves are worth a lot more alive than dead.”

Famous Yellowstone park wolf shot dead by trophy hunter

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Hunting and killing wolves is legal in Montana

One of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular wolves has been shot dead by a trophy hunter.

Spitfire, also known as Wolf 926F, was killed legally a few miles outside a park entrance in Montana, according to animal rights group Wolves of the Rockies.

The organisation shared the news on its Facebook page on Wednesday.

Spitfire was previously the alpha female leader of the Lamar valley wolfpack.

Spitfire and her pack attracted animal lovers from all over the world (Leo Leckie)

Her mother was also killed by a hunter in 2012 and Spitfire was credited with keeping the pack together after her death.

Both animals were stars in an area described by Yellowstone officials as a “wolf-watching mecca”, which attracts animal lovers from all over the world.

The hunter who killed Spitfire was acting legally according to The Dodoas it is currently hunting season for wolves in MontanaIdaho and Wyoming, the states that Yellowstone covers.

Wolf hunting licences in Montana cost just $19 (£15) for residents and $50 (£39) for others, according to the Wolf Conservation Centre.

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The predators were reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995 but remain at the centre of a debate in the US between conservationists who argue that the US wolf population needs protection, and hunters and farmers who argue that rising predator numbers are out of control.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/wolf-926f-spitfire-killed-hunter-yellowstone-national-park-lamar-valley-a8660741.html

Yellowstone news: Climate change is DESTROYING national park, experts warn

https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1049384/yellowstone-volcano-news-climate-change-global-warming

CLIMATE change is DESTROYING Yellowstone National Park and experts say it is a matter of decades before the face of the region is radically changed.

Yellowstone volcano: Super eruption seems LIKELY says scientist

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Yellowstone is not only home to one of the world’s most powerful volcanoes, but is the only remaining place in the United States where large packs of wolves and bison roam freely. However, this will soon change for the snow-covered national park, with experts warning that rising global temperatures will soon put a halt to this. Researchers who have spent years studying the 8800 square kilometres say the next few decades will see decreased snowfall, increased fires, less forest and more grassland.

Since 1948, the average annual temperature of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is a massive 89,030 square kilometres across the State of Wyoming, has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius.

With this, scientists say winter has become 10 days shorter on average.

And this steady warming will see Yellowstone National Park drastically change.

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Patrick Gonzalez, a forest and climate change scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “For the Northern Rockies, snowpack has fallen to its lowest level in eight centuries.

yellowstone

Yellowstone news: Climate change is DESTROYING national park, experts warn (Image: GETTY)

bison

Bye-bye bison: Animals are leaving Yellowstone (Image: GETTY)

“By the time my daughter is an old woman, the climate will be as different for her as the last ice age seems to us.”

Recent years have seen a migration of elk away from the park as there is less of a ‘green wave’ – where greenery flourishes during summer.

And where the elk go, the wolves follow, meaning the ecosystem is steadily changing too.

Andrew Hansen of Montana State University said: It is a very interesting mix of land-use change and climate change, possibly leading to quite dramatic shifts in migration and to thousands of elk on private land.”

Yellowstone: Rare moment Ear Spring geyser erupts

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Waterways are also receding which will have a huge effect on the landscape of Yellowstone National Park.

Daniel Isaak of the US Forest Service told the New York Times that as waters recede, fish become more concentrated allowing disease to more easily spread, which in turn will contribute to their die off, and those of animals higher up in the food chain.

He added: “We can very definitely see warming trends during the summer and autumn.

“Stream and river flows are declining as snowpack declines.”

Yellowstone hit by global warming, increased visitation: report

PINEDALE, Wyo. (Reuters) – Hotter, drier conditions have led to more severe wildfires in Yellowstone National Park, while growing numbers of visitors have harmed everything from prized hydrothermal features to its famed grizzly bears, the park said in a report on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A bison walks in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, U.S. on August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Average temperatures in Yellowstone, which has been designated as both World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve sites by a United Nations panel, are exceeding historical norms even as climate change is blamed for a string of fires that have increased in size and which last longer, according to the study.

The 60-page “The state of Yellowstone vital signs and select park resources, 2017” report is one of just four compiled in the past decade. They are designed to track one of the largest, nearly intact temperate ecosystems in the world.

Yellowstone is celebrated for geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, as well as forests, mountains, meadows, rivers and lakes considered a crucial sanctuary for the largest concentration of diverse wildlife in the Lower 48 states. The report shows it has seen warmer summers with less moisture and shorter winters in recent years.

At Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest of the park, for example, the average annual daily minimum temperature has increased by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit from 1941 to 2016 even as total annual precipitation has for the most part been below the long-term mean of 15.3 inches and snowpack has generally declined, scientists found.

Researchers noted an increase in the size of wildfires that impact vegetation and degrade air quality and said the future holds more of the same.

“If climate trends continue along their current trajectory, fires within the park will continue to be larger (and) burn for longer durations,” according to the report.

The millions of visitors who flock to Yellowstone each year from around the globe are behind a trend that includes vandalism to unique thermal features.

The thermal features have been subjected to everything from a drone crashing into one of them to crowds surging onto fragile grounds surrounding the features.

And while the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area is considered stable at roughly 700 bears, humans engaged in such pastimes as driving, hiking, camping and cycling can disrupt bear activities and even contribute to their deaths.

Yellowstone, most of whose 2.2 million acres sit in Wyoming but which also encompasses portions of Idaho and Montana, saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2016 and recorded its second busiest year in history in 2017.

Yellowstone’s wolves are back, but they haven’t restored the park’s ecosystem. Here’s why.

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming – Yellowstone’s wolves are back, helping revive parts of the ecosystem that changed drastically when this top-of-the-food-chain predator was killed off nearly a century ago. But Yellowstone is still not 100% back to normal – and it may never be.

“You put the predator back, that’s great, but conditions have changed so much in the intervening decades that putting the predator back is not enough to restore the ecosystem,” said Tom Hobbs, a Colorado State University ecology professor. “There’s not a quick fix for mistakes like exterminating apex predators.”

It’s a sign of both the promise – and the limitations – of a multi-decade wildlife recovery effort. The reintroduction of the wolf nearly 25 years ago to the country’s first national park has brought change: Overpopulated elk herds have thinned, allowing some willow and aspen groves to return and thereby creating better habitat for songbirds and beavers.

But even as this ecosystem shows signs of recovery, a complete restoration is nowhere to be found.

“In some places, I don’t expect a full recovery of the ecosystem,” said Bill Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, who started working in Yellowstone in 1997. “It’s going to be a mixed bag for the longer term now in coming decades.”

Yellowstone’s vanishing wolves

The park radically changed after humans exterminated the gray wolf from Yellowstone in the mid-1920s due to predator control efforts. Elk herds ballooned over the next 70 years, overgrazing vast tracts of land and trees such as willow and aspen. Fewer trees sent the songbird population into decline. Beavers lost their food source and the lumber to build their dams. The lack of those dams caused streams to erode, making them deeper and not as wide and further degrading the conditions willow need to grow.

Today, nearly 25 years after wolves were reintroduced into the park, the top predators have helped parts of the ecosystem bounce back. They’ve significantly reduced elk herds, opening the door for willow, aspen, beaver and songbird populations to recover. But the wolves haven’t been a silver bullet for the ecosystem as a whole.

“This idea that wolves have caused rapid and widespread restoration of the ecosystem is just bunk,” Hobbs said. “It’s just absolutely a fairytale.”

More about the park: Breathtaking Yellowstone sparkles in the off-season

Going to the park?: 10 tips to make the most of your visit

‘You don’t know what you’ve got here’: Why Yellowstone is one unique national park

Yellowstone’s partial recovery has set off a heated debate in academia over how much bringing back an apex predator, such as the wolf, can help restore a devastated ecosystem. It’s one with consequences stretching from the U.S. to India and Africa, where naturalists have pinned their hopes on keeping fragile ecosystems as intact as possible by avoiding the elimination of lions, tigers, sharks and other top predators.

“Maintaining intact ecosystems may be easier than fixing them after you’ve lost some of the parts,” Hobbs said.

Fewer elk, more songbirds

Most ecologists agree that Yellowstone has rebounded some. When Doug Smith, Yellowstone National Park’s wolf biologist, first arrived in 1994 shortly before wolves were reintroduced, some willow and aspen trees only came up to his knees. “Now I can’t see through it,” he said. “It’s like a forest.”

But the trees aren’t coming back in every corner of the park: In many spots willow groves haven’t returned. Because willows need beaver to keep the streams from eroding and beavers need the willows to build their dams, it’s rather hard for both to come back simultaneously and in large numbers, said Hobbs, whose team has been conducting a long-term willow growth study in the park for 17 years.

The decrease in elk hasn’t allowed willows to recover because the streams changed significantly when wolves were absent.

“It doesn’t really matter very much whether they’re being browsed or not. They don’t have adequate habitat to thrive,” Hobbs said. “The conditions that changed while wolves were absent created conditions that made it very difficult to restore willows.”

Grizzly population rebound

It’s not all about the wolves, even if they get the most attention. Over the past several decades, the number of other carnivores like the grizzly bear and mountain lion have also climbed, multiplying the impact of the top predators on the ecosystem.

“As a scientist, the challenge is to figure out how much ecological change since wolf reintroduction is attributable to wolves and how much of that change is due to other forces,” said Dan MacNulty, an associate professor at Utah State University who studies the ecology of wolves and elk in the park.

How large the wolf’s impact on the Yellowstone ecosystem is difficult to tease out in part because of nature’s complexity and capacity for frequent change, he said. But money also plays a large role: It is difficult to adequately monitor all the potential drivers of change when funding for long-term research is so limited, he said.

“One of the grand challenges in ecology is to understand the consequences of predator removal and restoration in large-scale systems like Yellowstone. But the resources aren’t there. That really limits our power to know what’s going on,” he said. “A key reason why there’s so much scientific disagreement is that we haven’t been able to take all the necessary measurements over a long enough time and over a large enough number of organisms to come up with a more definitive answer.”

Despite all the disagreement, most ecologists say removing predators today would be a mistake.

“The way ecosystems put themselves back together after such a problem is still something that scientists are trying to understand,” Ripple said. “The lesson is let’s not let things get as bad as they did with 70 years without wolves.”

But there’s an even broader question that needs to be addressed: Can we restore apex predators and coexist with them?

“There’s not many places in the rest of the United States where this is happening,” Smith said. “There are lessons here that we can do this on human-dominated landscapes in other places, but I don’t know because it might involve more wolves, cougars and bears, and right there you have a problem because people have trouble living with those three carnivores.”

How O-Six became Yellowstone’s ‘most beloved’ wolf

Every hunter that kills a wolf ends a wonderous adventure, says author

CBC Radio · 2 hours ago

<https://i.cbc.ca/1.4760707.1532518854!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_780/nate-blakeslee-and-book-cover.jpg>

The Wolf author Nate Blakeslee says every hunter that kills a wolf ends a wonderous adventure. (Penguin Random House Canada)

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Originally aired on November 28, 2017.

Read Story Transcript <http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-november-28-2017-1.4421390/tuesday-november-29-2017-full-episode-transcript-1.4423592#segment2>

When Alberta grey wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, not everyone who lived around the park howled with delight.

Wolves had been absent from the area since they were killed by hunters in the 1920s.

“Because so much of that land is controlled by the federal government, you see this us versus them, this local control versus intrusive federal bureaucrats — at least that is how it is cast in the West,” says Nate Blakeslee, author of The Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.

“The ranching industry is so powerful there, the hunting industry is so powerful there, all those state legislatures were largely opposed to reintroduction, even though a number of people there were very excited about it,” Blakeslee tells The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti.

While wolf experts initially thought the wolves would be pretty invisible to humans, living deep in the park, some of the packs lived in open areas easily watched by nature enthusiasts.

She was such an accomplished hunter.- Nate Blakeslee

And of those wolves, none was more loved or photographed than an alpha female called O-Six, who lived and hunted close to humans.

“She was a grey wolf. She had uncommonly attractive facial markings, sort of this owl-like mask around her eyes,” says Blakeslee.

“She was such an accomplished hunter.”

* Grey wolf wins Canada’s Greatest Animal contest <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/grey-wolf-calgary-zoo-canada-greatest-animal-contest-1.4123430>
* Using poison to cull wolves in Alberta is inhumane, says animal advocacy group <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-wolf-cull-animals-poison-1.4388721>

The wolves of Yellowstone were free to hunt and roam the area safe from hunters until 2012 when they were removed from the endangered species list.

Any wolf that left the safe confines of the park itself became a potential target for hunters.

“‘O-Six sadly did leave the park during that first legal hunting season,” Blakeslee says.

“Who could have foreseen that one of the first wolves to be shot during Wyoming’s first legal hunting seasons in generations would be the park’s most beloved animal?”

What is the value of one wolf’s life?- Nate Blakeslee

After she was shot, the rest of the wolf pack came out of the woods and circled their fallen leader.

And then they began to howl.

“What is the value of one wolf’s life?” Blakeslee asks.

“If every wolf leads this wonderful adventure story as O-Six did, if every wolf’s life is like that, and every wolf killed by a hunter ends such an amazing story, does it force us to reevaluate how we think about those policy goals and does it force us to go back again and take a look at what our values are in that process?”

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

_____

This segment was produced by The Current’s Howard Goldenthal.

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/how-o-six-became-yellowstone-s-most-beloved-wolf-1.4421434

Grizzly bear trophy hunt in Yellowstone area could be approved today

May 23 at 7:00 AM

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more:

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

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

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

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

Yellowstone’s grizzlies under threat from controversial hunting proposal

Nature  NEWS  03 MAY 2018

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

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

 

Giorgia Guglielmi

 

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

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

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

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

Restricted hunts

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

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

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

Size matters

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

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

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

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

Nature 557, 148-149 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05061-9

 


 


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

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

Published online: 27 April 2018 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0155-4 
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Grizzly Bears Are Now the Victims of the Trump Administration’s Climate Denialism

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2017/06/we_can_t_trust_this_administration_s_climate_decisions.html

We can’t trust this administration to make science-based decisions.

A female Grizzly bear exits Pelican Creek October 8, 2012 in the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
A female grizzly bear exits Pelican Creek on Oct. 8, 2012, in Yellowstone National Park.

Karen Bleier/AFP/GettyImages

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that the Yellowstone grizzly bear will no longer be listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act. The grizzly’s population has rebounded and it now “stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” he crowed.

A species being removed from the ESA is rare and, in normal circumstances, should be celebrated. It means that a population has recovered enough to no longer require extra protections, which should be considered a good thing. And the grizzly bear has: When the species was listed in the 1970s, it was estimated that a mere 150 existed. Today, there are about 700 individuals.

This decision, however, seems unlikely to be met with applause. As the New York Times reports, environmental organizations are already lining up to sue to stop it. And 125 Native American tribes have banded together to oppose the delisting because they weren’t consulted in the decision-making. Also, any good feelings animal lovers get from the words “conservation success story” are likely to be squashed by the fact that the delisting means the bears could now be hunted. People really don’t like it when charismatic megafauna get killed.

Should the grizzly bear be delisted—or this just yet another awful environmental move by the Trump administration, divorced from science and decency? One political litmus test is to check what the Obama administration thought of the grizzly bear’s fate. In March 2016, Dan Ashe, then the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, defended the delisting. And the recovery numbers do look strong (700 sure sounds small, but Yellowstone grizzlies are a top-of-the-food-chain predator living in a small land mass—what matters more is the populations’ stability, not its size).

But scientists have dramatically different opinions about how to read those numbers. Luke Whelan over at Wired has a good rundown of how the two sides of the debate see the issue. One school of thought says that because the bears’ populations have plateaued, that means they’ve hit the carrying capacity, or the number of animals the habitat can sustain, and are in good shape. Under this logic, delisting makes sense. The counterargument suggests that the carrying capacity is lower than it should be because its habitat and food sources have changed since the bear was listed in the ’70s, primarily due to climate change—which means that the bear needs to stay protected. In fact, most of the environmental groups planning to sue over the move basically want to keep the bear listed because of the threat climate change will increasingly pose. And climate change does pose a threat—warmer temperatures are causing white pine beetles to move further and further into grizzly habitat, killing pine trees and hurting a critical food source.

Who’s right? It’s hard to say definitively—it depends on how you read the science, and how you think the ESA should be applied based on that science. Arguing that climate change is going to pose a threat to an animal and therefore warrants (somewhat) proactive listing is a tough sell—honestly, on a long enough scale, climate change and the cascading food chain and habitat problems could justify listing most animals on the ESA. That would be an interesting precedent to set. It’s also unclear how ESA protection could help address the pine beetle problem. The ESA has limited resources and offers limited protections—indeed, many conservationists think it is actually most successful when wielded as a stick to inspire (or coerce) proactive solutions before a species requires listing, rather than as a real way to solve environmental problems. And through that lens, it’s clear that what the grizzly bear really needs is for climate change to be taken seriously, and minimized. The ESA can’t force that—it’s not equipped to.

When the government is this bad at accepting basic truths, it makes it hard to have faith that their decisions are good ones—even decisions that seem positive or reasonable. It also creates a world in which we have to fight to keep species listed on the ESA because we know we’re not going to do much else to stop climate change from screwing them over in the long run. It is exhausting and demoralizing to live in a world like this.