Montana lawmakers push for tribal bison hunts in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana legislative committee that wants to limit Yellowstone National Park’s growing herds of bison from leaving the park sent a recommendation Thursday to park officials for Native American tribes to be allowed to hunt bison inside the park.

The committee’s letter to Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk came a day after members voted 9-7 in favor of the plan — even though there are no requests by the tribes to hunt inside the park.

Tribal representatives said Thursday they already have enough opportunities to hunt the animals outside the park.

“The idea of gunning down animals in the Lamar Valley or near Old Faithful is nothing the tribes have proposed or are considering,” said John Harrison, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Supporters of tribal bison hunts inside the park including Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton pitched the idea as a potential solution to the dilemma posed by bison leaving Yellowstone and getting onto private property.

Democrats objected, pointing out that no tribes have asked to hunt inside the park.

Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said longstanding policy prohibits hunting in national parks unless specifically authorized by Congress.

 Any tribes wanting to assert treaty rights to hunt in Yellowstone would have to submit the request to the U.S. Justice Department for consideration, she said.

Stephanie Adams with the National Parks Conservation Association said state officials had missed an opportunity to push for expanded habitat for bison outside the park. Under a program in place since 2000, thousands of the animals have been captured and sent to slaughter after they enter Montana.

Several tribes with longstanding treaty rights hold annual bison hunts just outside Yellowstone’s boundary.

Those hunts have stirred controversy — with bison often shot immediately after stepping beyond the park boundary — while failing to reduce the size of Yellowstone’s herds. Yellowstone at last count had roughly 5,000 bison, a near-record level for the modern era.

Many Yellowstone bison carry a disease, brucellosis, that can be harmful to livestock and cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort their young. However, no bison-to-cattle transmissions of the disease brucellosis have been recorded.

Yellowstone rejected requests from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer to allow public hunting inside the park when the Democrat was still in office.

Yellowstone’s Grizzly Dead: 2015 Shatters Records for Grizzly Bear Deaths

August 25, 2016

|

by Louisa Willcox

Today, thousands of people are gathered in Yellowstone to celebrate the centennial birthday of the National Parks, which many say is perhaps the best idea that America has ever had.  But no one is in Gardiner, Montana, today to mourn the dead. And indeed, most do not know of the catastrophe that hit the grizzly bear, one of the Park’s most beloved icons, in 2015, when 85 bears died out a population of perhaps 717 animals.

Last week, government data was released showing that bear deaths during 2015 shattered previous records, and that thresholds for allowable female deaths were exceeded by a large margin (link). The death toll of 85 grizzlies is not an anomaly, but rather the most recent manifestation of a decade of unsustainable high grizzly bear mortality.

If current trends continue – and this year is poised to break another record – the hard fought progress towards recovery of Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population will be quickly reversed. The federal government’s proposal to strip Endangered Species Act protections later this year and allow sport hunting will exacerbate the current threats to grizzly bears in and around the nation’s oldest park.

The US Geological Survey, a sister agency to the Park Service and responsible for compiling data on Yellowstone’s bear population, has still failed to release its long-delayed annual report covering 2015—a year that is now nearly nine months gone. But a summary of the report, issued last week in response to public outcry, tells all – despite the deliberately obtuse and convoluted language.

What do these deaths mean, and what will happen to Yellowstone’s magnificent grizzly bears if hunting is legalized and added to what is already excessive human-caused mortality?

The Grizzly Dead

According to the US Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), 61 Yellowstone grizzly bears are known to have died during 2015.  (link). And this doesn’t account for the additional 24 that were thought to have died, but went unreported, most of which were also probably killed by humans. This breaks the record for annual grizzly bear deaths by any cause since 1959, which is when data on mortalities started to be compiled. And it breaks my heart.

Applying a calculation that accounts for unreported bear deaths, the government estimates 70 bears died inside the Demographic Monitoring Area (DMA), which constitutes the core of grizzly bear habitat (link). Adding the 11 known and 4 unknown but probable deaths outside the DMA, the total death toll is 85 bears. This is a shocking 11% of the estimated population of 717 grizzly bears — and a 20% increase above the next-highest year, 2010, when 68 bears died.  A full rundown of the body count and what it means can be found here (link).

According to the IGBST, the dead included 25 adolescent and reproductive females. But according to the government’s own protocols, no more than 18 females, or 7.6% of the total, can be killed without causing a population decline. Twenty five dead mothers, including those who never had a chance to bear young, constitutes a huge violation of the government’s limits, and should make federal managers pause in their headlong rush to delist the population. Females are the ultimate arbiters of population health. It should be noted too that a mom’s death has deadly consequences for her orphaned cubs.

This year is shaping up to be another blood bath for bears, with 27 known deaths so far (link), or roughly 38 animals if an estimate of unreported deaths is included.

These numbers are overwhelming and under-reported in the media. And most of the deaths are completely unnecessary.  More on this later.

Of Foul Play and Thuggishness

Of the bears killed last year, 19 are being investigated as possible poaching incidents (link). This includes the Yellowstone Park celebrity grizzly, Scarface, who was murdered by a big game hunter outside the Park border last fall.

This is almost three times the next highest number of potential poaching incidents recorded during 2012, when 7 deaths were under investigation.

It is almost certain that these deaths were caused by hunters (or by poachers, although the line between hunters and poachers is often blurred). In the past, deaths under investigation fell into the categories of hunter-related incidents, self-defense kills (often a euphemism for a hunter-related incident), and black bear hunters mistaking a grizzly for a black bear.

What is going on? We may never know for sure, with so few eyes and ears in the backcountry, as federal budgets and the number of backcountry personnel shrink.

But this could well be more of the notorious “Shoot, Shovel and Shut up” behavior that landed grizzly bears on the endangered species list in the first place.  In other words, armed thugs tired of waiting for delisting are looking for opportunities to illegally kill bears.

An article in the Jackson Hole News and Guide gives a glimpse of the involved mindset (link). Two years ago, in Wyoming’s remote Thorofare area, one party of hunters shot into a group of five grizzly bears feeding on the carcass of an elk they had killed. They killed a 17 year old radio-collared bear, Number 764, with .44 and .357 magnum slugs. The hunters had watched the situation for many minutes and had the chance to walk away. This was not a surprise, defense of life situation. It was an act of raw aggression. The case was not prosecuted. Almost none are.

Another incident occurred during 2010 on Mountain Creek in the Teton Wilderness (link).  A grizzly bear was killed at an outfitter camp. The protocol for dealing with bears that get near camps like this one is to try to scare them away with noise, dogs and shooting cracker shells. A worker who shot the involved bear in the chest and abdomen said later he intended to “hit it in the ass.”  “Son of a bitch wouldn’t leave,” he said.

Thuggish behavior by state officials could also be a factor in decisions to kill more bears, even those that have not caused problems with people. One good example was Grizzly 760, grandcub of Teton Park celebrity mom 399, who was killed by Wyoming and Game and Fish officials in 2014 even though he had never obtained a food reward from people and had never threatened, let alone hurt, anybody or their livestock (link).

Behaving like playground bullies in the push to delist Yellowstone’s grizzlies (link), states wildlife managers seem to be acting as if delisting has already happened and, along with it, a return to open season on bears. In fact, according to state plans, several hundred bears could be killed within a few years after delisting as part of deliberate efforts to reduce numbers of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region, potentially to critically low levels.

Fear, aggression, and lack of understanding and heart. These are the kind of ungenerous and perverse impulses that seem to drive the killing spree of the last two years. The polar opposite of what is being celebrated in Yellowstone today: respect and reverence for nature. In her recent book, The Hour of Land, Terry Tempest Williams called national parks “portals and thresholds of wonder,” and the “breathing spaces for a society that increasingly holds its breath.” Unfortunately, there is not much evidence of wonder or expansive generosity on the part of our grizzly bear managers or many back-country hunters.

In this time of commemoration of parks and wild nature, it grieves me to think that things could get worse for grizzly bears if they are delisted this year and made the victims of hunting designed to entertain a perverse few.

Mums the Word on Bear Death Toll

The government bureaucrats responsible for managing Yellowstone’s grizzlies have responded to last year’s spike in potentially illegal mortalities with stunning silence. The topic of these deaths was a non-issue at recent meetings in Bozeman, West Yellowstone, Jackson and Missoula, which were instead a stage to stroke managers’ egos, glorify agency “successes,” and promote delisting (link). Although managers knew about the record high mortalities, they remained mum. A political mandate to perpetuate this silence could well explain why the IGBST has not yet released its 2015 report, which includes a lot of bad news. If not, the extent to which delay furthers the political agenda of delisting is a striking coincidence.

The only managers who have not been silent are Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk and Grand Teton Park Superintendent David Vela, who continue to protest state plans for hunting grizzly bears outside the park borders, and the deliberate exclusion of the Park Service by the states from any involvement in development of post-delisting hunting policies (link).

But it seems that state managers, aided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, are committed to expediting delisting and hunting grizzly bears, protests of Park Service officials notwithstanding. Perversely, state wildlife managers not only seem to think that hunting is the only proper “use” of an animal as noble as the grizzly bear, but also that it is morally acceptable to legalize poaching rather than try to deter it. Which begs the question why state managers are so eager to placate people who behave like criminals. Perhaps the answer has something to do with the nature of people who populate state management agencies. Almost to a man, they promote trophy hunting, and, by doing so, condone the notion that killing animals for entertainment is not only acceptable, but laudable.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), charged with restoring imperiled species on behalf of all of us, seems to have lost its way. I previously wrote about the heartless even mindless behavior of FWS bureaucrats. The metaphor that came to mind was that of a zombie in service of some relentless master (link). It is both tragic and contrary to the spirit and intent of the Endangered Species Act that the FWS has enslaved itself to the agenda of state politicians who see grizzly bears only as an inconvenience or simply as “things” to be dominated and killed (link). Despite its mandate – and what could be a more compassionate mission than to save species – the FWS is now catering to the thugs.

All of the government agencies have banded together perpetrate an age-old tactic of avoiding the problem by attacking their critics, including scientists, grizzly bear advocates, and the roughly 50 Indian Tribes that have come out in opposition to delisting. At a recent meeting of federal and state managers, the Tribes, which have objected to hunting grizzly bears on spiritual and cultural grounds, were criticized by these bureaucrats as being “out of touch with reality” (link).

Yet the Tribes are representing the interests of many of us by challenging the ethos of Manifest Destiny that drove the genocide of Indian people and the slaughter of millions of buffalo, wolves and grizzly bears, all in the name of “progress.”  The Tribes, and the multitudes who today commemorate the wisdom of preserving parks, share the view that nature should be preserved in a spirit of wonder, not greedily exploited for the profit of a few, nor served up to slake the blood-lust of an even smaller minority yet.

Unbearable Killing

The government’s own data puts the lie to claims being made by state and federal bear managers that Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population can absorb the high levels of mortality that we’ve seen during recent years. The population is no longer growing, and more likely has been declining since 2007 (link). IGBST data showed a substantial decline of roughly 50 bears in estimated population size between 2014 and 2015. This trend has been driven by the loss of two former key native grizzly bear foods, cutthroat trout and whitebark pine (link), and subsequent shifts in diet. Bears have turned increasingly to foraging on meat, mostly cows and big game, which draws them into mounting conflicts with ranchers and hunters (link).

As the US Fish and Wildlife Service has long recognized, most bear-human conflicts are avoidable. The solutions are not starry eyed, but practical. They include paying attention and being prepared to encounter bears in the backcountry (link). Carrying bear pepper spray (link). Keeping clean camps.  Dealing responsibly with dead game to help keep grizzly bears alive.

These are but a few of the tools of coexistence. Our choice to use them rather than bullets depends on the stories we choose to tell ourselves about our place in the world, as well as that of animals such as grizzly bears.

Today, we have the power of life and death over the Great Bear. If unchecked, an armed and hostile few, aided by the government, will continue to indulge in violence and aggression that could push Yellowstone’s grizzly bears back to the brink of extinction. The interests of the majority who want to see bears alive and flourishing around the nation’s oldest park could be sacrificed for those of a death-oriented minority.

If grizzly bears are delisted and hunted, we may, in a few short years, wake to find them at rock bottom levels, hunkered down inside the borders of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks. And shot, as wolves are now, and as Scarface was last fall, if they dare step across the border.

Is this our vision for the future of our nation

Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission To Vote On Yellowstone Grizzly Hunting Regulations

Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission To Vote On Yellowstone Grizzly Hunting Regulations

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet today to decide on potential huntingregulations for Yellowstone area grizzly bears.

The vote comes as state wildlife agencies draft management plans ahead of a planned proposal to delist Yellowstone grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, besides hunting regulations, the commission will vote on a three-state agreement to establish guidelines for divvying up bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced earlier this year they hope to delist Yellowstone grizzlies from the Endangered Species List by early next year. Each Yellowstone state must draft a plan regardless of whether grizzlies are delisted or not. Under the agreement, hunting would only occur if the USFWS successfully makes its case for delisting. Wyoming Game and Fish approved their grizzly plan just yesterday.

Grizzlies were previously delisted in 2007 but reinstated several years later after a federal judge ruled (in a case brought against the USFWS by environmental advocates) that the agency had failed to consider the impacts of climate change on the bears’ long term survival. From the Chronicle:

Opponents of delisting dispute the notion that Yellowstone’s grizzly bears are thriving and say that allowing hunting could send the population into a decline. Some have also called for a buffer zone between hunting districts and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

USFWS’ delisting proposal includes a limit on the number of bears allowed to be killed within a 19,279-square-mile area that includes Yellowstone National Park and parts of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. The limits are population based, and would rule out any discretionary kills if the population dips below 600.

The USFWS is expected to make a final decision on lifting protections for the bears next year but is requiring that all three states draft hunting rules before that happens. Idaho and Wyoming have both unveiled their plans.

Montana’s proposal would create seven hunting districts near the borders of Yellowstone National Park from Interstate 15 east to the border of the Crow Indian Reservation. It includes measures meant to protect females and young bears from being taken by hunters, like banning the shooting of bears in groups.

Quotas based on what share of the allowed mortality Montana gets would also be implemented. Under the three state agreement, Wyoming would get 58 percent of the harvest, Idaho 8 percent and Montana 34 percent.

FWP representatives have said that even in the event of a hunting season, the quota would be consistently low —fewer than ten, sometimes zero if the population hews closer to 600.

431125_10150547334526188_1114807436_n

Death at Yellowstone: Feds probe shooting of ‘Scarface,’ the park’s most famed grizzly

The Washington Post
Karin Brulliard

 

There are more than 750 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, but none as famed as a brawny, cocoa-colored male dubbed No. 211.

He was best known by his nickname, which was inspired by his fight-maimed face and damaged right ear: Scarface. He roamed far, wide and often within sight of delighted tourists and their cameras. He was captured, collared and released by biologists 17 times, making him “one of the most studied bears,” in the region, according to the Associated Press.

By last fall, those scientists were warning that Scarface might not make it through the winter: He’d dropped from a peak of 600 pounds to 338 pounds. At 25 years old, he was elderly.

[Cubs of a euthanized grizzly that killed a Yellowstone hiker will get a new home]

They were right that his time was short. But Scarface didn’t die of natural causes. Last week, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department released a statement that said No. 211 had been fatally shot in November near Gardiner, Mont., just outside Yellowstone’s northern edge.

FILE - In this Oct. 2005, file photo provided by Ray Paunovich shows a well-known Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear known as "Scarface." Montana wildlife officials have confirmed that the grizzly bear was shot and killed during a confrontation with a hunter north of Gardiner last fall.© Ray Paunovich via AP, File FILE – In this Oct. 2005, file photo provided by Ray Paunovich shows a well-known Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear known as “Scarface.” Montana wildlife officials have…

The bear’s death is now under investigation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, because grizzly bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and most killings not carried out in self-defense are illegal. The Montana state agency offered no details about the the killing or why it was not announced sooner, and a Fish and Wildlife representative contacted by the Washington Post declined to comment.

The killing of the famous bear is sure to fuel opposition to recent Fish and Wildlife proposal to remove federal protections for grizzly bears in the so-called Greater Yellowstone Area, which could lead Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to approve their hunting. Grizzlies were declared threatened in the 1970s, when hunting, trapping and other issues caused their population to decline to less than 150.

Federal officials say the bears’ population has recovered, but many conservation and wildlife organizations are fighting the proposal. The Sierra Club, for example, has said “bears’ naturally slow reproductive rate, loss of key food sources to climate change, and state plans to reduce numbers through methods like trophy hunts, all spell disaster.”

[These undercover robot animals are helping in the hunt for poachers]

Scarface’s killing is being widely mourned among those familiar with the bear, who’d earned a reputation as an unflappable “king of the woods,” in the words of Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone’s bear management program leader, who spoke to the AP shortly before the bear’s death.

 

Scarface was first captured in 1993, when he was a “sub-adult” bear weighing 150 pounds. At his peak, the bruin tipped the scales at about 600 pounds, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. But he’d grown emaciated in recent years, the agency said, noting that less than 5 percent of male grizzlies live to the age of 25.

Scarface owed much of his fame to the scuffles with other bears over females, carcasses and dominance that had made his face so recognizable, and that had so destroyed his right ear that it flopped over. Photographers, in particular, have sung his praises — and, in recent days, angrily mourned his loss.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGhostBearPhotography%2Fposts%2F935515193234391%3A0&width=500

“I’ve seen him almost kill a black bear for getting too close to his carcass in Antelope Valley and I’ve seen him barely bat an eyelash at people who find themselves far too close,” nature photographer Simon Jackson of Ghost Bear Photography wrote on his blog two years ago, adding that he’d seen the bear 20 times over the years. “There is no one animal that has inspired me like Scarface nor any animal that has played such a profound role in defining the person I’ve become.”

Last week, as news of the bear’s death spread, Jackson’s blog published another post. “Our emotions alternate between shock, sadness, anger and a profound sense of loss,” Jackson and fellow photographer Jill Cooper wrote, urging people to campaign against the proposal to de-list the grizzly bear. “Nothing will bring back our beloved Scarface, but we can still do right by the many bears he fathered and all of the bears that shared the landscape he once roamed.”

Sandy Sisti, a wildlife photographer who blogs at Wild at Heart Images, once wrote a paean about seeing “Yellowstone’s Grand Old Man” in all corners of the park and watching as he grew more scarred over the years.

More: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/death-at-yellowstone-feds-probe-shooting-of-%e2%80%98scarface%e2%80%99-the-park%e2%80%99s-most-famed-grizzly/ar-BBsxLOg?ocid=spartandhp

 

 

Groups sue to halt hunting at Grand Teton

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Environmental groups filed a pair of federal lawsuits on Wednesday to stop hunting that is now allowed on hundreds of acres within Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and has claimed three bison.

The National Parks Conservation Association and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates claimed in the lawsuits other species could be hunted.

Hunting generally isn’t allowed in national parks, though Grand Teton for decades has hosted an annual elk hunt in coordination with state wildlife officials.

The hunt — formally known as an elk reduction program — was part of a state-federal compromise that enabled the park to be established in its current boundaries in 1950.

A 2014 agreement between Grand Teton and Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials improperly allows hunting dozens of species on private and state land within Grand Teton, the groups claim.

The groups worry that grizzly bears and wolves could soon be targeted by hunters if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife succeeds in removing the animals from federal protection as threatened and endangered species.

“For more than 65 years, the National Park Service rightfully and lawfully exercised authority to protect all park wildlife,” said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager for the NPCA. “It should continue to do so moving forward.”

Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw declined to comment, citing agency policy on pending litigation.

The lawsuits involve dozens of parcels of state and private land called inholdings located within the park. National park land completely surrounds most inholdings, which total well under 1 percent of Grand Teton’s 485 square miles.

Significant inholdings include two state parcels, each measuring a square mile, and a pair of relatively small ranches of 450 and 120 acres.

National Park Service and state officials began discussing whether federal or state laws would be enforced on Grand Teton inholdings after a wolf was shot on a private inholding in the park in 2014.

Federal prosecutors declined to charge the shooter, finding that park officials had erred in determining that federal wildlife law for national parks took precedence on the private land.

Park officials agreed later that year that state law would take precedence on all inholdings. The four environmental groups are contesting that agreement with the lawsuits.

“Wildlife obviously don’t pay attention to title records and move around on all of those parcels,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “You cannot maintain the park, the integrity of the park as a preserve for wildlife protection, when you have these islands where wildlife can be killed.”

The number of Grand Teton inholdings dwindled after decades of buyouts by the National Park Service. Wyoming officials have been trying for years, with limited success, to get the Interior Department to acquire all remaining state inholdings.

The last two inholdings, together worth perhaps $100 million, command prime views of the Teton Range. In 2010, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal threatened to sell to the highest bidder if the federal government didn’t get serious about taking them off the state’s hands.

Recent negotiations between state and federal officials have focused on possibly trading the sections for federal land and mineral rights elsewhere in Wyoming

Yellowstone Grizzlies by the Numbers

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears By the Numbers

The grizzly bears that inhabit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have played an important role in one of the nation’s greatest endangered species success stories. Since 1975, the bears have been beneficiaries of the Endangered Species Act that enabled the grizzly population to beat all odds after teetering on the brink of extinction. It grew from 136 bears in 1975 to around 700 in 2016, although estimates range from 674 to 839.

On March 3, 2016, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced its proposal to delist the Yellowstone area grizzlies, which includes Grizzly 399, from the federal threatened species list. It is expected to make a final decision by the end of 2016.

The Numbers

50,000
The number of grizzly bears that roamed between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains during Lewis and Clark Expedition, 200 years ago.

674-839
The approximate number of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem according to the National Park Service in 2016. No one knows the exact number.

150
The number of grizzlies that live within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park in 2016.

More than 524
Of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies live outside Yellowstone National Park.

22,500 square miles
Is the range of the Yellowstone area grizzly bears, which has doubled since 1975 – that’s an area larger than Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire combined.

37
Grizzly bear populations were present in the lower 48 states in 1922.

31
Grizzly bear populations were extirpated by 1975.

136
Grizzlies lived in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1975.

10
is number of years it takes a female grizzly to replace herself in the population.

1,000
Grizzly bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which stretches from Kalispell, Mont., all the way up into Canada and includes Glacier National Park.

DSC_0033

Trapping and slaughter of hundreds of Yellowstone bison begins

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/trapping-and-slaughter-of-hundreds-of-yellowstone-bison-begins/ar-BBpAcKT?ocid=spartanntp

Josh Hafner

Yellowstone National Park officials started trapping bison Monday as part of an annual effort to kill hundreds of the area’s iconic animals through hunting or shipment to slaughterhouses.

Government agencies aim to drive down the bison population by as many as 900 this year to reduce the mammals’ centuries-old migration beyond the park’s boundaries and into Montana, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

A plan calls for eventually culling bison in the park from about 5,000 down to 3,000.

Efforts to winnow the bison’s migration came after fears from Montana ranchers and landowners that the bison may vie with cattle for grazing space or transmit disease, according to the Associated Press.

Suggested from Windows Store

About half of Yellowstone’s bison have been exposed to brucellosis, an animal disease that causes abortion in cattle, AP reports. There are no recorded cases of it moving from bison to cattle.

“There is recognition by both disease regulators and wildlife managers that the risk of brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle is minute,” the National Park Service told Vice magazine last year.

In 1995, Montana sued the National Park Service over bison migration into the state. The settlement created a plan requiring hundreds of bison to be captured and killed each year.

A record-high 1,726 bison were captured in the park in 2008, according to AP, with most sent to slaughterhouses.

Meat and hides from the slaughtered bison are distributed among members of Native American Tribes, according to the National Park Service.

In 1902, the herd of bison in Yellowstone dwindled to as low as 23. The park now counts near-record levels of its bison, according to AP, which biologists cherish as genetically pure.

While hunters had killed more than 300 bison as of Sunday, the Chronicle reported, the park said it wasn’t enough to negate the need for regular capture and slaughter.

“We understand that many people are uncomfortable with the practice of capture and slaughter—we are too, so we’re looking for additional alternatives,” the Park Service said in a guide to the controversy on its site.

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner

Francis Marsh, right, a Cayuse Indian from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Ore., stands next to a bison he shot and killed near Gardiner, Montana on Feb. 12, 2011.© Ted S. Warren, AP Francis Marsh, right, a Cayuse Indian from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Ore., stands next to a bison he shot and killed near Gardiner, Montana on

Slaughter of Up to 900 Wild Bison at Yellowstone Park Sparks Federal Lawsuit to Protect First Amendment Rights

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Jamie M. Woolsey of the law firm Fuller, Sandefer & Associates and two constitutional law professors filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of journalist Christopher Ketcham and wild bison advocate Stephany Seay, who are seeking access to Yellowstone Park’s controversial bison trapping operations that lead to the slaughter of hundreds of bison. The lawsuit argues that the First Amendment guarantees citizens and journalists reasonable, non-disruptive access to the publicly funded national park.

Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park
The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on Feb. 15, 2016. Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park

The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on Feb. 15. During the capture and kill operation, the park service closes parts of the park to public access.

“It’s ironic that to benefit Montana ranchers grazing their cattle—an invasive species—Yellowstone Park has agreed to facilitate the capture and killing of 900 American bison, an iconic, native species,” Law Professor and ALDF Attorney Justin Marceau said.

Past accounts of similar bison killing operations have provided evidence of brutal treatment of the animals. The centerpiece of the park’s role in the slaughter is the Stephens Creek Capture Facility, which is located entirely within the national park. The bison are driven into the facility, held in pens, tested and eventually forced into trucks and transported to slaughter. In recent years, the park service reversed its previous policy that allowed members of the public to witness and document the operation—the park service itself shot video and photographs—and now proposes to offer only three supervised tours, including one when the trap facility at Stephens Creek was not in operation.

Yellowstone’s public information office also used to offer information on how many bison were captured, shipped to slaughter or injured each day. During the past two bison kills, however, the park delayed release of that information for two weeks.

“If the First Amendment right of access is to mean anything,” Marceau went on to say, “it means that citizens and journalists should have reasonable, non-disruptive access to their publicly-funded national park to observe and memorialize one of the most controversial uses of national park land imaginable.”

“No one wants their federal tax dollars to be used by park service rangers to abuse and kill the very animals the service is responsible for protecting,” Seay said. “The park service doesn’t want the public to see these shameful activities.”

Ketcham has written about the bison controversy for VICE, Harper’s and other magazines and websites. “I want full access to the operations,” he said, “so I can effectively report on the issue. I want to be able to see the suffering of these animals up close and thus bring readers up close.”

Although there were once tens of millions of bison throughout most of North America, today wild bison are ecologically extinct throughout their native range, with fewer than 5,000 living in and around Yellowstone National Park, the last continuously wild, migratory herds left in the nation. The animals are currently managed under the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan; thousands of bison have been abused and killed through hazing, hunting, scientific experiments and capture-for-slaughter operations.

The purported reason for the enactment of the plan is that bison threaten to infect local cattle populations with brucellosis, a non-fatal disease originally brought to North America by European cows. Wild bison, however, have never transmitted the disease to cattle. In fact, no transmission from bison to cattle has ever occurred outside of a laboratory setting.

“Denying access to the park during this controversial publicly-funded wildlife slaughter campaign is very similar to the intent of ag-gag laws,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “Such laws ‘gag’ would-be whistleblowers, journalists and activists by making it illegal to record and disseminate photos or footage taken in agricultural operations. ALDF has successfully proven ag-gag laws are unconstitutional under he First Amendment and we are confident we will do the same in this case.”

The coalition of law professors, non-profit lawyers and private attorneys are joined by a team of top law students at the University of Denver and they are all eager to aggressively litigate the free speech rights of journalists seeking to document the trapping of bison within national park lands.

Hunting to Scare Grizzlies?

http://www.grizzlytimes.org/#!Hunting-to-Scare-Grizzlies/c1ou2/5696cb910cf263fc5a89bf50

Hunting to Scare Grizzlies?

January 13, 2016

|

David Mattson

Kill grizzly bears to make them afraid of humans. This idea has gotten a lot of air time in recent years as one of several justifications for removing endangered species act (ESA) protections for Yellowstone’s grizzlies, most recently in a January 10th editorial by the Editorial Board of the Bozeman Chronicle. Delisting (another term for removing ESA protections) would clear the way for a sport hunt managed by the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, which are currently squabbling over a share of the sport kill in anticipation of devolution of authority from the federal government to them.

The idea of instilling fear in grizzlies through a hunt is emotionally charged because there have been several bear-caused human fatalities in the Yellowstone region during the last few years. The media, of course, has duly sensationalized each death. So the idea is to have sport hunters kill grizzlies to teach them to fear people. As a result, there will be fewer bear attacks. People will be safer. To borrow a phrase from Valerius Geist, a proponent of hunting bears, people will have “freedom of the woods.” Hmm. Well…

Although some people obviously consider hunting to be a self-evident guarantor of human safety, there is, in fact, little or no empirical support for this proposition. There is essentially no evidence that a sport hunt instils 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? A point that has been made by many others besides me.

Having made my assertion, I should probably elaborate, noting, though, that a thorough review of the evidence (or lack thereof) would probably bore you, the reader, to tears. Which means that I will confine myself to a (relatively) brief and necessarily cursory overview. So put on your seat belt and send me your questions if you want more detail.

Grizzly Bear Fundamentals

The first point to be made is that grizzly bears exist at a baseline characterized by a greater tendency to respond aggressively to perceived threats compared to other bear species. Steve Herrero, a Canadian behavioral ecologist, was the first to speculate that this aggressiveness was rooted in the evolutionary history of grizzlies. Grizzlies (AKA brown bears) evolved in open environments where safety depended on standing your ground and intimidating or beating back any threat. (You can find more on the formative evolutionary environments of grizzlies by following this link and this link).

Even so, grizzlies can exhibit a high degree of tolerance for humans and other bears that might otherwise be viewed as threats. You can see this in coastal environments where bears have become highly socialized and tolerant of each other because of frequent interactions with conspecifics concentrated around salmon spawning streams. Or among bears that have interacted enough with benign humans to internalize a less fear-based response—a process known as “habituation.”

So, a couple of key points are worth making at this juncture: First, grizzlies seem to be hard-wired genetically to deal with perceived threats aggressively. Second, and perhaps more importantly, 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. Killing grizzlies (and, as I address later, we’ve done a lot of that even with ESA protections) is unlikely to rewire the genetic underpinnings of their behavior; and less fear rather than more is probably going to make people safer, especially if we continue to reduce the number of circumstances (e.g., garbage around human residences or hunters near freshly-killed elk) that allow people to do things that trigger aggressive responses from even the most tolerant bears. More on that a little later.

Welcome to the Vacuum

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 night-time activity, with little obvious relevance to whether humans were thereby safer. A  coarse-grained review by Jon Swenson, a Scandinavian bear researcher (and, for a while, a Montana biologist), suggested that hunted European brown bears might be more wary, but that this possible behavioral response was trumped by whether food was available near people. Bears were likely to seek out food regardless of whether they were hunted or not, which goes back to my point immediately above about garbage and hunter-generated carrion.

By contrast, we know quite a bit about the negative and often unintended consequences of selectively hunting adult males of various carnivore species. Insofar as livestock depredation and other conflicts are concerned—including the type that could lead to human injury—we tend to get more rather than fewer. This is because adolescent males tend to gravitate to areas where the dominant resident males have been removed by hunters. And adolescent male bears are notoriously prone to push human boundaries. Moreover, sport hunting tends to disrupt the social order of bear populations, which often results in more cub-killing by males and, with that, unexpected and sometimes problematic population declines.

So, a couple more points: There is little or no direct evidence that bears become warier with hunting, and certainly no evidence that people become safer. On the other hand, conflicts with people can paradoxically increase, along with unanticipated declines in bear populations. So, again, not a compelling case for the benefits of sport hunting.

The Immediate Circumstances of Attacks

At this point I return to Steve Herrero, who has spent essentially his entire professional career looking at the immediate circumstances of bear attacks, with emphasis on behaviors of the involved people and bears. His research shows that most attacks by grizzlies happened because people were moving quietly (or sometimes rapidly) through the woods, or because the bears were lured to the vicinity of people by food. The former set of circumstances led to surprise encounters. Adult females with cubs almost invariably responded aggressively to protect their young. On the food front, when grizzlies spent more time around people the odds mounted of us doing something stupid (or unintentionally risky), or of bears simply getting curious. So, surprise encounters and foods that attract grizzlies are prominent drivers of risk. And, again, foods were typically in the form of garbage or the remains of elk and moose that hunters had recently killed. Only rarely did Steve find that outright predation was a factor, typically as night attacks on people camping in tents.

This comports with what we know of circumstances surrounding the bear attacks that have occurred around Yellowstone. Several people have been injured or even killed because they were moving quietly through the woods (sometimes jogging), surprising a female that then defended her cubs, or a bear that defended a carcass, or, in the case of some hunters, just simply a bear that defended its personal space. But surprise encounters are a central theme. Then there were the few night attacks on people in tents, probably (or, in one instance, almost certainly) by bears that were in the habit of checking out campgrounds for food. So, the food factor. And then there were the odd-balls, such as the botanist killed by an enraged boar grizzly recovering from being trapped and drugged (again, a surprise encounter), or the photographer killed by a frantic female that he had pushed beyond endurance. In this latter case, the stupidity factor.

So, given these concrete circumstances, what can be deduced about prospects for increasing human safety by hunting grizzlies? Well…unless you kill most bears, you are not going to substantially reduce the chance of surprise encounters. Nor, as I noted earlier, are you going to eliminate the hard-wired tendency for grizzlies to defend themselves from a perceived threat when surprised, especially when guarding cubs or food. Hunting also does not deal with the availability of foods near people. And we would be foolish to expect that grizzlies will be less motivated to procure food because we are hunting them. Obtaining food is another hard-wired drive for bears, especially during the late summer and fall when they are putting on fat to get through hibernation. And hunting does not address the stupidity factor.

As a bottom line, when looking at the reasons why people get injured by grizzlies, I am hard-pressed to divine how hunting will increase human safety. Unless, perhaps, we kill most of the grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone, as our European ancestors did.

And We’ve Already Run the Experiment

On top of this, we’ve already run the experiment and found no evidence that it has worked. Which is to say, we’ve functionally been hunting Yellowstone’s grizzlies for years, complete with gunshots, blood, gory remains, and lots of associated human scent and sign. Think, for example, of all the grizzlies that have been killed by big game hunters during surprise encounters or in conflicts over hunter-killed elk—increasingly. Or by ranchers and other people in defense of life-and-property. Functionally this is probably little different from a sport hunt, except in the heads and on the balance-sheets of wildlife managers. We’ve essentially been hunting grizzlies in Yellowstone, without any evidence that it has affected human safety one way or another.

And What About Yellowstone Park?

And then there is Yellowstone National Park, where a substantial proportion of the bear attacks and resulting human fatalities have occurred. There will not be a sport hunt in the Park, even with a delisted grizzly bear population. So, even assuming the unlikely–that hunting would cause bears to avoid us because they are more fearful, how will this effect be propagated through over 2 million acres in the core of the ecosystem? From hunted bears on the periphery, which will presumable be killed by humans at a higher rate compared to protected bears living in the core–in Yellowstone Park? In the face of a resulting net movement of bears outward rather than inward? Unlikely.

But We Probably Can Make Bears Fear Us Even More

At this point I’ve run much of the gauntlet of evidence and found little or no support for the idea that human safety can be enhanced by sport hunting. At least the traditional kind of sport hunting that focuses on killing trophy-worthy adult males, with little overt selection for bears known to be involved in conflicts with humans.

But there is a kind of hunting that probably could have an effect, and to understand this potential we need to look at what we know about relations among bears. More specifically, bears fear other bears, more than they probably fear humans. And there are reasons for this.

For example, there is ample evidence that fear motivates adolescent bears and females with young cubs to exert themselves to avoid other adults, even to the extent of spending more time near people. In fact, we can unintentionally serve as shields of sorts for bears that are seeking protection from aggressors of their own species. There are several reasons for all of this. Adolescents are often chased by solitary adults, and on occasion, probably thrashed to within inches of their lives…sometimes even killed. Likewise, cubs can be killed during encounters with adult grizzlies other than their mother, a phenomenon known as infanticide. All of this entails unpleasant experiences and interactions that happen on a relatively frequent basis, which fosters learning and even generalization of experiences.

So, what does this have to do with how we might hunt Yellowstone’s grizzlies, with the objective of engendering fear of humans? It seems pretty obvious. You selectively hunt and kill cubs–but leave the mothers alive. And you trap bears, with an emphasis on adolescents, club them to within inches of their lives, and then let them go. And do this repeatedly and for as many bears as possible.

Having suggested such an approach, I find the prospect disgusting. But, then, I am sure there are some hunters out there that would relish the prospect of killing cubs and torturing trapped bears. The same hunters that have done something similar with wolves and coyotes. But the backlash from the broader public would be predictable, dooming such a hunting strategy to an early demise. Moreover, not unlike abused dogs, abused bears might, in fact, be even readier to attack a human should a surprise encounter happen.

Still, if the issue really is just simply about making grizzlies fear us… Or is the ardent promotion of sport hunting really about something else?

Concluding Thoughts

Take the case of Terry Schramm, a self-styled cowboy from Pennsylvania working for self-styled out-of-state ranchers who own the Walton Ranch in Jackson Hole. Or the legislator-rancher Albert Sommers who raises cows in the Upper Green River of Wyoming thanks to heavy subsidies by environmentalists (in the form of a $1 million plus conservation easement), by the federal government (in the form of well-below-market-price grazing fees), and by the state of Wyoming (in the form of generous compensation for any cows that he claims are lost to predators). In a recent Wyofile article, both of these icons of the modern west explicitly or implicitly suggested that their fraught lives would be a lot less problematic if there were many fewer grizzlies in a lot fewer places.

The wolves that survived the night

December 22, 2015, 05:00 pm

By Tim Preso

 On a December day in 2012, a collared female wolf known by wildlife biologists as 832F wandered beyond the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park into Wyoming where she was shot and killed. She would be among the first wolves shot in Wyoming since the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed federal protections from the species and turned over their management to the state earlier that fall.

At the time, 832F was called the “most famous wolf in the world,” the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack, wildly popular among tourists to Yellowstone National Park. She was known for her agile hunting ability, able to take down an elk singlehandedly, a dangerous feat usually undertaken by a whole pack. Unusually large with a thick gray and white coat, 832F was a queen among wolves, leader of her pack, beautiful, lethal, a living expression of what it means to be wild.he move by the Fish and Wildlife Service to take away federal protections for wolves was controversial, but the shooting of this particular wolf unleashed a firestorm of criticism of the Service and shined a harsh light on the state of Wyoming’s wolf management program, which included a hostile shoot-on-sight policy across the vast majority of the state and one wolf-killing loophole after another in the remainder.

Earthjustice took the Fish and Wildlife Service to court over the decision to hand over wolf management to a state with a history of extreme anti-wolf policies and a management program that failed to include essential protections for wolves. Last year, a judge ruled in our favor and restored protections to wolves throughout Wyoming.

But just this past week, the fate of wolves in Wyoming and in three other states in the Western Great Lakes region again hung in the balance. Earlier this year, a cadre of anti-wildlife members of Congress slipped a policy rider into House and Senate versions of government spending bills that would have overridden two federal court decisions (including our 2014 victory for wolves in Wyoming). This rider would have stripped wolves of federal protections and would have prevented any further judicial review of the legality of that decision.

If enacted, that rider would have given Wyoming the green light to resume its hostile management program, including shoot-on-sight management of wolves, with no limit or regulation whatsoever, across 85 percent of that state. Just as a fragile recovery is within reach for wolves in the northern Rockies, Wyoming would have again subjected them to the same unregulated killing that nearly wiped them out in the first place.

In the end, wolves survived the night. Last week, President Obama signed into law an omnibus spending package that did not include the wolf delisting rider. That rider, along with 12 other anti-Endangered Species Act riders and dozens of other anti-environmental riders, were excluded from the final omnibus deal.  The fact that wolves and the Endangered Species Act emerged from the omnibus deliberations and deal-making relatively unscathed is in no small part due to the thousands of Americans who wrote in to their members of Congress, or called the White House, or took to social media to demand that their leaders follow through on the American promise to safeguard the natural world for the sake of our children and grandchildren.  The message of these constituents was heard loud and clear by 25 senators and 92 members of the House who wrote letters to the president urging him to reject any policy riders that undermine the Endangered Species Act, an Act that  serves as a critical safety net for the nation’s imperiled plants and animals.

Today, we celebrate that wolves in Wyoming remain protected. We thank the members of the House and Senate who stood strong for the protection of wolves and recognized that a spending bill is no place to make life-and-death policy decisions for our nation’s wildlife. We will remain steadfast in our commitment to fight for the wolves and other species under threat of extinction. And we will think of the wolf somewhere in the mountains south of Wyoming’s Teton Range that will not be shot this winter, but instead will climb through the snow to a ridge-top at night under a winter sky filled with stars and will throw back her head to send a wild howl across the forest.

Preso is an Earthjustice attorney based in Bozeman, Montana.