Exposing the Big Game

Forget Hunters' Feeble Rationalizations and Trust Your Gut Feelings: Making Sport of Killing Is Not Healthy Human Behavior

Exposing the Big Game

Groups urge 5-mile wolf hunting and trapping setback around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

October 27, 2021
CONTACTS:Stephen Capra, Footloose Montana, 406-370-3027, stephen@footloosemontana.orgBrooks Fahy, Predator Defense, (541) 520-6003, brooks@predatordefense.orgJoselyn Leroux, Western Watersheds Project, 406-960-4164, jocelyn@westernwatersheds.org

MISSOULA, MT — The U.S. Forest Service is being asked to move aggressively to stop the killing of wolves being drawn out of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks to their deaths, lured by the calling and baiting of local hunters and trappers. More than three dozen organizations and individuals are urging the quick approval of a 5-mile buffer zone near park boundaries where no hunting or trapping would be allowed, to protect wolves, residents and visitors from bullets, traps and snares.
“This insanity of allowing the slaughter of national park wolves and endangering the public was enabled by Governor Gianforte and our legislature and must be stopped by the federal government,” said Stephen Capra, executive director of Footloose Montana. “It is time that they assume their rightful control over these federal forest lands, to protect wolves and all who come to witness their beauty and importance.”
Initiated by Footloose Montana, the organizations and individuals requesting urgent attention to this proposal have sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of Interior; Charles Sams III, Director of the National Park Service; Randy Moore, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service; Cameron Sholly, Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park; Palmer “Chip” Jenkins, Jr., Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park; and to regional U.S. Forest Service supervisors for the north region and the five national forests surrounding both national parks.
Their request notes that Yellowstone guides take wolf watchers on the same popular trails into the parks that armed hunters and trappers use to line up on the boundary. The potential for conflict and random bullets from hunters shooting at wolves is high. Hikers could also step into a wolf foothold trap or even a snare and not be able to get out. Any one of those possibilities could be fatal.
Eliminating wolf trapping in this transition zone will also reduce human-grizzly bear conflict and mortality in important core grizzly habitat, furthering the shared goals of wildlife managers across jurisdictions.
“A five-mile no wolf hunting zone around Yellowstone National Park is a no-brainer under these dire circumstances,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “It’s high time Secretary Vilsack stands up and does something other than catering to the livestock industry. Without immediate action all Yellowstone wolves that step over the Park’s imaginary boundary line are at extreme risk.”
Recent actions by Idaho and Montana state legislatures allow for extreme measures to collectively kill more than 2,000 wolves, destroying wolf populations in both states. Outside of Yellowstone in Wyoming, wolves have already been decimated. During the first weeks of Montana’s hunting season six wolves in Yellowstone’s most-viewed wolf pack were killed. Fifty percent of the wolves killed by hunters so far are in Wolf Management Units that directly border Yellowstone. Hunters are using electronic callers to lure wolves out of the park to kill them, which wolf advocates argue is not sport, but slaughter.
“This year’s legislative agendas in Montana and Idaho have proven that the states are incapable of properly managing gray wolves,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director for Western Watersheds Project. “The five-mile hunting and trapping setback is a common sense move that the Forest Service can take to ensure Yellowstone wolves retain protections that the states callously removed.”
The four U.S. National Forests bordering the parks are Custer-Gallatin, Caribou-Targhee, Bridger-Teton and Shoshone. This five-mile setback is an important step in recognizing the importance of keystone species such as wolves and the cooperative relationship between the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
Allowing the killing of wolves on park borders can also seriously harm the economies of surrounding communities. Tourists come from around the world come to see the iconic wolves of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They contributed $500 million to local economies in 2020 alone, according to the National Park Service, and a recent analysis estimated revenue from the wolf-watching industry at $65.5 million annually.
# # #

Footloose Montana is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2007 that promotes trap-free public lands for people, pets and wildlife.
Predator Defense is a national nonprofit advocacy organization championing essential native predators with science, sanity, and heart since 1990. They are also devoted to ending America’s war on wildlife and helping people learn to coexist with wild animals..
Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation group founded in 1993. They work to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.

Action Alert Yellowstone Wolves

Very dark days lie ahead for us, for our state’s reputation, for tourism, for our state’s economy, and particularly for wolves and other animals. The wildlife and beloved family pets will pay the ultimate price in this unethical, indiscriminate, and unnecessary war declared on wolves in Montana.

In support and collaboration with some of our closest allies, Plan B to Save Wolves, Wolves of the Rockies, The 06 Legacy, and the Apex Protection Project, Trap Free created this action alert, below, focused on the Yellowstone Wolves. We did not make this decision lightly. The Yellowstone wolves are the poster child of wolves. They are both deeply valued and deeply despised. We do not want to put them in further jeopardy. However, they are the trophies, wolf haters, and outfitters will target. They have no quota, anymore, on the number of Yellowstone wolves who can be killed, and these wolves are clueless. Their deaths will be heard worldwide and felt through the heart and the wallet. We cannot sit back, wait, and watch.  As WOTR founder once said to us, “If we cannot save Yellowstone wolves, we cannot save any.” 

Please take action below and make the calls. With enough pressure we should be able to at least stop this pending targeted slaughter we know will be on the prized Yellowstone wolves and the foreseen annihilation of hundreds of unknown wolves will not be muted!


If you are a fan of Yellowstone, a future or past visitor, or a business owner who benefits from 
Yellowstone National Park, then WE ARE IMPLORING YOU to be a voice for Yellowstone Wolves.

This is an EMERGENCY. In Montana, killers will be targeting Yellowstone wolves as a badge of honor, for revenge, and for the ease now in killing them. The fascination and love of wolves viewed and watched by millions in the park, annually, have habituated many wolves into thinking that humans will cause them no harm. However, they are about to be seriously betrayed.

The Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission removed the quotas outside the park, so those who hate wolves CAN NOW KILL countless Yellowstone wolves as they cross the imaginary park
boundary lines.

Effective August 20, 2021, in sync with the Montana 2021 legislature’s passing of anti-wolf bills, here is how wolves in Montana can legally be killed:

  1. By outfitters, landowners, and others with landowner permission, enticing wolves with bait onto private land so they can also shoot them at night using artificial light or night vision scopes.

   2. With baited unattended indiscriminate massive secreted leghold traps and countless cheap snares. 

   3. With archery beginning September 5, guns September 15, and trapping and snaring as early as November 29. The Montana wolf season closes on March 15 during the wolves’ latter stage of 
pregnancy and birthing.

    4. And with monetary reimbursements ~$1,000, a bounty, from an Idaho based organization for Montana wolf killers.

The Yellowstone wolves have significant intrinsic and extrinsic value:

  1. They are the poster child of wolves. These wolves are known, observed, photographed, studied, and treasured.
  2. They will represent the secreted and disturbingly unethical, cruel fate that will befall all the unknown wolves in Montana and in which the recent overwhelming majority of 25,000 submitted public comments opposed.
  3. Tourism is Montana’s second and fastest-growing industry. Many come here for wildlife, and especially to Yellowstone to see wolves. 
  4. In 2005, 10 years after wolves returned to Yellowstone, a study estimated wolf-centered ecotourism generated > $35 million in the park’s surrounding gateway communities.
  5. In 2019, Yellowstone National Park reports tourism generated a  cumulative economic benefit of $642 million for local economies near the park.
  6. Years of scientific research and educational discoveries will be lost with this pending slaughter.                                                                                                   

Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission’s approval of these wolf “hunts” has nothing to do with hunting, or as anti-wolf bills’ sponsor, Rep. Paul Fielder said, fair chase. They will become culls, potentially decimating, even eliminating entire naive Yellowstone packs.

PLEASE, TAKE A FEW MINUTES, now to try to stop this, using your own words, and being respectful, do the following:

1. Contact MONTANA OFFICE OF TOURISM AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT and tell them that you are demanding protections for wolves as a patron of Yellowstone, a tourist, or a relevant business owner. 
1-406-841-2870 / Toll-free 800-847-4868 Email: travelcounselor@visitmt.com 
Online contact: https://www.visitmt.com/contact.html

Post a respectful comment on their Facebook page to amplify the need to protect wolves in Montana: https://www.facebook.com/visitmontana

2. Contact MONTANA GOVERNOR GREG GIANFORTE about the negative economic impact this will have; the economic benefit in 2019 from tourism to local Yellowstone Park communities was an estimated $642 million.
1-406-444-3111, or online https://svc.mt.gov/gov/contact/shareopinion

3. Contact SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, DEB HAALAND and urge her to protect Yellowstone wolves, save the Northern Rocky Mountain region wolves from this unethical and unnecessary slaughter, and move to a federal emergency listing of all wolves to prevent the imminent eradication of the species. 1-202-208-3100
email: feedback@ios.doi.gov or online https://www.doi.gov/contact-us

4. Contact PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN and insist he put the wolves back on the endangered species list as the states have demonstrated their inability to manage wolves responsibly and through science; and this is not what the American public supported for wolf reintroduction and recovery.1-202-456-1414 (Switchboard) 1-202-456-1111 (Comments) or online https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

 5. Contact YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK. Trust they do not like this either, but help them document all the opposition. email: yell_visitor_services@nps.gov or online: https://www.nps.gov/yell/contacts.htm 


On behalf of a consortium of wolf supporters, thank you! 

For an excellent comprehensive article on the plight of wolves and the drastic harm this will cause, Montana Defiantly Puts Yellowstone Wolves in its Crosshairs.

Experts project 72 grizzlies will die due to cattle conflicts

‘Really tough decision’ to authorize grazing where there’s chronic conflict, forest ranger says.

Federal wildlife officials foresee and have approved growing grizzly bear bloodshed on a sprawling complex of Bridger-Teton National Forest cattle grazing allotments recently permitted for the long haul.

The Bridger-Teton’s Pinedale District ranger, Rob Hoelscher, signed off in early October on a decision OK’ing the continuation of a historic grazing operation on 267 square miles of forestland that falls in the Upper Green and Gros Ventre river drainages. That decision instituted a number of minor changes, like giving the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association more flexibility in rotating its cows, tweaking utilization standards for vegetation heights and authorizing some new fencing.

A larger shift, however, is outlined in an accompanying document called a biological opinion, which estimates the federal action’s impact on a threatened or endangered species — in this case, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears. The updated overall estimate of grizzly bears that will be “incidentally taken” as a result of the Upper Green grazing, the April 2019 document says, is 72 bruins between the 2019 and 2028 grazing seasons.

Upper Green grazing

Phil McGinnis looks for cattle in one of the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association’s Bridger-Teton grazing allotments in 2016. Federal wildlife officials have authorized the incidental taking of up 72 grizzly bears in the area over the next 10 years.

“We had a number of conversations with the grizzly bear recovery coordinator and also with Wyoming Game and Fish,” said Nathan Darnall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deputy supervisor for Wyoming. “When we start talking numbers this large, we all have to pause for a second and ask if this number is sustainable.

“In looking at the grizzly population and looking at the future expansion of the population … we decided that this number, in concert with everything else, was sustainable,” he said.

The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population is estimated at around 700, though an undetermined number of Ursus arctos horribilis dwell on the fringes of the region outside where the species is carefully monitored.

“This is not going to jeopardize the population of bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Darnall said. “We’re not going to see numbers dipping below recovery levels, and we would still expect the population to increase.”

Darnall and his colleagues at Fish and Wildlife, who oversee grizzlies because they’re currently classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, produced the biological opinion.

The document points out that not all bears in the Upper Green cause trouble and that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has documented bears with territories in the allotments that haven’t killed cattle.

“Nonetheless, bear conflicts with livestock increased an average of 10 percent each year,” the opinion says. “We believe this trend is likely to continue within the action area. Within the last nine years 37 grizzly bears were lethally removed from the action area due to conflicts with livestock.”

The all-time high mark for lethal action taken in response to dead cows came in 2018, when Wyoming had jurisdiction over the species during the grazing season, didn’t need Fish and Wildlife authorization, and opted to kill eight depredating grizzlies.

The 72 grizzlies authorized for removal over the coming decade is a large increase from the most recent estimate, in 2014. That year the “take” was set at a maximum of 11 bears over any rolling three-year period.

Grizzly bear removals
Capture locations of grizzly bears removed due to livestock conflicts within the Upper Green Allotment Complex.

The 69-page document puts numbers to the rising rate of ursine-bovine conflict that led to the higher estimate. Although ranchers reported a relative lull this summer in the slaughter of both cattle and bears, since the turn of the century conflict has soared in the Upper Green as grizzly range has expanded and filled in that portion of the Bridger-Teton.

Between 2010 and 2018, Game and Fish and federal wildlife managers confirmed 527 conflicts, almost exclusively cattle that were killed or maimed. The majority, the document says, occurred in the last five years, and they took place “throughout the action area.”

The 1,112-square-mile “action area” assessed in the document is much larger than the actual allotments, taking into account grizzlies estimated to inhabit areas up to 7.5 miles away from the allotments. The more than 9,000 cow/calf pairs and few dozen horses permitted to graze the expansive rangeland have proven a big attractant, according to grizzly bear GPS collar data cited in the opinion. One bear captured after killing cattle on the allotments, grizzly No. 499, denned clear across the mighty Wind River Range, 24 miles away on the Wind River Reservation. Another Upper Green grizzly captured for research, bear No. 754, denned 29 miles away near the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park.

This iteration of Fish and Wildlife’s biological opinion for the Upper Green did not estimate the grizzly population in the “action area” surrounding the allotments. In 2013 the agency put the number at somewhere between 51 and 60 grizzlies.

Fourth-generation Upper Green stockman Albert Sommers, who helps run the Cattlemen’s Association, has tried and failed to change his grazing protocols in a way that reduces grizzly conflict. The operation pencils out, he’s told the News&Guide, only because of Wyoming compensation programs. In 2016 and 2017 Sommers worked with the conflict-reduction group People and Carnivores to test a herding technique that bunched up his bovines at night. It had “no effect on depredation,” the Fish and Wildlife’s opinion said, and was discontinued.

“I still go to conferences,” Sommers told the News&Guide this summer, “and listen to ideas.”

Not all parties paying attention to the chronic conflict in the Upper Green are satisfied with a gruesome status quo that’s forecasted to worsen. Center for Biological Diversity employee Andrea Santarsiere, of Victor, Idaho, said that the Bridger-Teton grazing complex is “good habitat” that’s turned into a “population sink” bound to continually attract more bears, resulting in more conflict.

“It’s just a cyclical problem that they’re not going to be able to resolve without taking some conservation measures on the ground,” Santarsiere said.

Grizzly conflict map
The map compares grizzly bear/cattle conflicts in the Upper Green Allotment Complex between 2010-14 and between 2015-2018.

Mandatory conservation measures in the Bridger-Teton’s decision, she said, are “lacking terribly.”

“Pretty much everything that we asked for was ignored or significantly watered down,” she said.

During the “objection process” with the forest in early 2018, Santarsiere tried to make it mandatory for range riders to carry bear spray, but the language was turned into a recommendation. It was a similar story, she said, with carcass removal requirements that the conservation community sought.

“They have to move carcasses under the new decision if they are too close to roads where the public might be, which protects the public,” Santarsiere said. “But that’s not doing a lot to protect grizzly bears, because all they have to do is move them a little ways from the road.”

Hoelscher, the Bridger-Teton district ranger, said authorizing the mostly business-as-usual Upper Green grazing plans was a “really difficult decision.” He acknowledged that the regulations relating to grizzly conflict are largely unchanged.

“The permittees as well as the state have done a lot of trying to figure out what works, and what doesn’t,” Hoelscher said, “and they’re pretty much already doing about all they can do.”

“I feel it’s very important to maintain the lifestyles and the industry here locally for the permittees,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what comes out of this all.”

Santarsiere, who is an environmental attorney, said she’s considering her options.

Gardiner landowner sues feds to stop bison hunt north of Yellowstone

Bison bones
A backbone and scattered chunks of fur are all that remain of a bison killed by hunters near Beattie Gulch, one of two popular bison hunting areas north of Gardiner and Yellowstone National Park.

A Gardiner-area landowner is suing the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to halt the hunting of bison just outside Yellowstone National Park’s northern border, saying the agencies have failed to analyze the consequences of the hunt as required by law.

“The Park Service and Forest Service have never analyzed the impacts of hunting on private property owners, neighbors, and visitors” through the appropriate environmental process required by law, stated the complaint by Bonnie Lynn and Neighbors Against Bison Slaughter, which shares her address.

Lynn is seeking a permanent halt to any future bison killing within a mile of her home and rental cabins as well as a temporary restraining order to stop the hunt this winter.

The lawsuit argued that rather than address the situation, “the Federal Agencies have foisted the dangerous and concentrated impacts of bison hunting onto a small group of private property owners, neighbors, and visitors.”

The complaint specifically focuses on Forest Service land known as Beattie Gulch, which is just across the road from Lynn’s residence. Each winter and spring, as bison migrate out of Yellowstone in search of forage, tribal and state hunters concentrate at the pinch point to kill the big ungulates.

In the most extreme case, 389 bison were killed on the land in the winter of 2016-17, the majority of them by tribal hunters exercising their treaty rights. Bison gut piles, legs and other remains are often left behind after the hunts, attracting predators such as bears and wolves as well as scavenger birds.

The second complaint, filed by Lynn and L&W Construction LLC, is seeking $500,000 from the federal government claiming that because predators and birds have sometimes spread the carrion to her property it is a taking of her property rights, physically occupying her land, without just compensation. Bison are known carriers of brucellosis, a disease that can cause undulant fever in humans.

Lynn’s two complaints were filed Tuesday in a District of Columbia federal court. One of the attorneys representing her is former Montana U.S. House candidate Jared Pettinato.

Wildlife officials reject petitions to protect Yellowstone’s bison

BILLINGS, Mont. — US wildlife officials rejected petitions Thursday to protect Yellowstone National Park’s storied bison herds but pledged to consider more help for two other species — a tiny, endangered squirrel in Arizona and bees that pollinate rare desert flowers in Nevada.

Wildlife advocates have campaigned for decades to halt the routine slaughter of bison migrating out of Yellowstone to reach their winter grazing grounds in Montana.

The burly animals, also known as buffalo, once numbered in the tens of millions before overhunting reduced them to just a few small herds.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service rebuffed calls for special protections for Yellowstone bison in 2015 but was forced to reconsider under a US District Court order issued last year.

Wildlife service spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland said there’s no scientific information showing bison should be treated as a threatened species.

The park’s slaughter program, along with hunting of the animals in Montana, is meant to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis, which can cause bison, elk and cattle to abort their young.

“The overall numbers of bison are stable despite culling and the presence of brucellosis,” Strickland said, adding that the park has as many bison as it can hold.

Enlarge ImageA Mount Graham red squirrel.
A Mount Graham red squirrel.AP

Darrell Geist with the Buffalo Field Campaign said the government’s decision ignored the fact that one of the park’s two major bison herds has been in steep decline, which Geist said could have implications for the herd’s genetic health.

The so-called central herd declined from more than 3,500 animals in 2006 to 847 in 2017, according to park biologists. Yellowstone’s northern herd grew from about 1,500 bison to almost 4,000 over that time period.

Regarding the Mount Graham red squirrel of eastern Arizona, officials agreed to consider whether more habitat protections are needed. Weighing a mere 8 ounces, the squirrels are found solely in the Pinaleno Mountains.

Fires, roads and developments including a University of Arizona telescope complex have impacted the squirrel’s range. An estimated 75 remain in the wild.

Wildlife advocates contend the squirrels’ only hope is the removal of the telescopes, some nearby recreational cabins and a bible camp in the area.

“It’s an incredibly precarious situation,” said Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued government officials last year to force a decision on the group’s 2017 petition for more habitat protections. “If you want to try to have these animals survive you have to remove those structures.”

In Nevada, officials said the Mojave poppy bee faces potential threats from grazing, gypsum mining, recreation and competition from honeybees. Its survival is closely linked to two rare desert poppy flowers in the Mojave Desert.

Federal law allows citizens to petition for plants and animals to get protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The positive finding on the petitions for the poppy bee and red squirrel means officials will conduct more intensive reviews before issuing final decisions.

Vehicle strikes, kills another wolf in Grand Teton National Park

Wolf killed in Grand Teton National Park
A wolf that was struck and killed by a vehicle lays beside the road Saturday in Grand Teton National Park.

Canyon Phillips had the rare experience of seeing his first wild wolf up close last weekend, though unfortunately the canine had just expired.

The 3-year-old son of wildlife-watching guide Taylor Phillips probably didn’t grasp what exactly was going on when he crawled up to investigate the still-warm carcass of the grayish-white lobo late on Saturday. Moments before the female adult wolf had been fatally hit by a vehicle cruising down Grand Teton National Park’s main interior road near Colter Bay Village.

The Phillips family rolled by just as Teton Interagency firefighters, who were also driving by, were dragging the animal’s carcass off the road.

“I don’t believe he comprehends death, and what that is,” Phillips said of his son’s roadside encounter.

“He kept on repeating, ‘Why isn’t it real?’” he said. “We were like, ‘No, it is real, but it’s dead — it no longer has any life moving through its veins.’ It’s unfortunate. That was his first wolf, really.”

The wolf was a 7-year-old female from the Huckleberry Pack, which had been tracked and given a unique identification number by the National Park Service in the past. When asked, park officials declined to identify the animal by its number. Although the wolf appears white in photos, it was actually gray and its coat was turning white in its twilight years.

Grand Teton biologist John Stephenson said that the aging lobo’s cause of death — a vehicle strike — is common for wolves within the park’s boundaries. Fourteen wolves have been hit and killed on park roads since 2005, he said.

“We have an average of one a year,” Stephenson said. “In the park, it is the No. 1 cause of mortality for wolves.”

The driver of the motor vehicle that struck the Huckleberry Pack wolf did not report it, although that is a legal requirement. Another motorist who witnessed the hapless animal being hit did phone authorities, but the reporting party did not provide enough detail for law enforcement to pursue. No investigation into the animal’s death is underway, park wildlife chief Dave Gustine said.

Gustine encouraged motorists who strike an animal — or see one hit — to call Teton Interagency Dispatch promptly, and with as many details as possible.

“If people followed the speed limit,” Gustine said, “a lot of these incidents could be avoided.”

The section of highway where the wolf was hit cuts through sagebrush and grass fields and has mostly open sight lines, said Phillips, who is the founder and CEO of Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures. Gustine concurred with that assessment, though noted it’s impossible to say if speed was a factor.

The Huckleberry Pack shows up on Wyoming Game and Fish Department monitoring reports as long ago as 2012, which is the year the female that just died would have been born. Its home range, maps show, extends through most of northern Teton Park and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, spilling into the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s Teton Wilderness to the east. At last assessment the pack had 10 wolves in its ranks, making it one of the largest wolf packs in Wyoming.

Phillips, whose guides and business benefits from wolf watching, said the Huckleberry Pack hasn’t been a particularly visible wolf pack, at least recently. That’s true of wolves in Jackson Hole generally, he said.

“In the past year, year and a half, wolf observations have been slim,” Phillips said, “and I correlate that to the hunt that opened up.”

At least over the last two years no members of the Huckleberry Pack have been registered by successful legal wolf hunters, according to Game and Fish reports. Wolf harvest has been much more substantial in the southern and eastern parts of the valley.

Grand Teton National Park Visitors Playing With Fire By Feeding Bears

Some Grand Teton National Park visitors reportedly were feeding bears this week/NPS file

Some visitors at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming are playing with fire by feeding bears. For now, park staff have temporarily closed the Signal Mountain Summit Road and surrounding area.

What species of bears were being feed by several visitors this past Tuesday evening wasn’t known, but park visitors and staff were bluff charged by a female grizzly with two cubs along the Signal Mountain Summit Road.

“Feeding wildlife is irresponsible, dangerous, and illegal, and we take these incidents very seriously,” said acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail. “Please share any information about the feeding of wildlife immediately to a nearby park ranger, visitor center, or by calling Park Watch at 307-739-3677.”

If you have a video of visitors feeding bears, share it with National Parks Traveler atnews@nationalparkstraveler.org or by attaching below as a comment.

Bears are protective of their feeding areas, which include ripening berry patches. All visitors are required to maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and always carry bear spray, as well as make noise and travel in groups.

Bears that obtain human food may lose their natural fear of humans and become dependent on human food. As a result, they may become aggressive toward people and have to be killed. The maximum penalty for feeding park wildlife is a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Bears, both grizzlies and black, are extremely powerful and dangerous animals.

Every visitor who comes to Grand Teton has the unique opportunity to view bears in their natural habitat. With that opportunity comes the responsibility to protect themselves and the bears, say park staff. It is up to everyone to keep bears wild and alive. Please report any bear activity or human-bear interactions to a nearby park ranger or visitor center.

The proper storage of food items and responsible picnicking are vitally important in bear country. Picnickers should only have immediate use items out so that if a bear approaches, food items can be quickly gathered and the opportunity for the bear to receive a food reward is removed. Visitors should store food and scented items in bear-resistant food lockers that are located throughout the park or in a hard-sided vehicle. Do not burn waste in fire rings or leave litter in campsites.

Grizzly and black bears thrive in Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Jr., Memorial Parkway. Visitors may encounter a bear anywhere and at any time. Some of the most popular areas and trails pass through excellent bear habitat.

Grizzly bears put back on endangered list in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced on Tuesday that it has reinstated grizzly bears on the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).

In a press release from the USFWS, the service said on June 30, 2017, it announced the establishment of a population of GYE grizzly bears and determined those bears no longer met the definition of threatened. USFWS subsequently removed the GYE population of grizzlies from the list of threatened and endangered wildlife.

Six lawsuits were filed in federal court against that move. A federal judge in Montana ordered USFWS to put the bears back on the list in a September 2018 court order. The relisting announced Tuesday was taken to comply with the order, according to USFWS.

Grizzly bears remain protected under the Endangered Species Act in the five other ecosystems where they are primarily found: the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, the Selkirk Ecosystem, the North Cascades Ecosystem, and the Bitterroot Ecosystem.

The relisting of GYE grizzlies as endangered stops any plans for a grizzly bear hunt in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming.

Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle

May 13, 2019


David Mattson

As a scholar and social scientist I get annoyed when concepts are deployed for partisan purposes without regard for intellectual integrity. Having said that, I suspect that most politicians would find my distress silly, which is to be expected of a breed that exists to promote partisan ends using whatever rhetoric serves the immediate purpose. More to the point, politicians specialize in propaganda, one definition of which is: “Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect.” So, politspeak, in the spirit of Politburos and other perversions of public service.

But I expect something quite different from public servants working for administrative agencies. These people are tasked with implementing legislated policy as honestly and faithfully as possible, and, through that, maximizing benefits for the broader public they serve. Policy-relevant information is to be obtained, used, and communicated openly, with as little prejudice as possible. In other words, public communications by folks working for government bureaus should not be in the form of propaganda—not politspeak, at least in a democratic society, at least ideally.

Lethal Invocations

This brings me to public statements made during recent years by spokespeople for the federal and state agencies that manage our wildlife—more specifically, the use of a particular concept by grizzly bear managers in the Yellowstone ecosystem: that of “social carrying capacity.” To be fair, this usage is nested within a broader movement among wildlife managers who invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing all sorts of animals, which may partly explain but not excuse such prevarications.

And that’s the point. “Social carrying capacity” is invariably used to justify killing more animals. Here’s a sampler: by the Florida Wildlife Commission to institute a sport hunt on the threatened Florida black bear and increase lethal control of the endangered Florida panther; by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to increase levels of sport hunt on black bears in Maine; by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to increase the harvest of mountain lions; by David Mech, a USGS wildlife scientist, to justify hunting wolves in Oregon and Wisconsin; and by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and state wildlife management bureaus of Montana and Wyoming to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections and institute a sport hunt on grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is my focus here.

The Amorphous “We”

So what do wildlife managers seem to be saying when they invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing these animals? Basically, it comes down to this: the assertion that “people” will not tolerate any more of these large carnivores (read grizzly bears for Yellowstone), which means that “we’ve” reached the limits for how many can be supported in a given area, which means that “we” need to start reducing numbers by killing more animals. In the case of Yellowstone’s grizzlies, the preferred method for killing these bears is through a sport hunt. “People” are viewed as a homogeneous blob, and socially-defined “carrying capacity” as some kind of objective fixed reality.

Conceptual Pedigree

It is worth noting that none of the wildlife managers deploying the concept of “social carrying capacity” have any obvious expertise in conceptualizing, assessing, or otherwise measuring social phenomena. They are certainly not social scientists. And they are certainly not acquainted with the pedigree of the concept they so freely invoke.

So what are the academic roots of “social carrying capacity”? This concept was first developed by social scientists thinking about the numbers of people that could recreate in an area before their collective enjoyment was critically impaired. Alan Graefe, currently at Penn State, and Jerry Vaske, of Colorado State University, wrote an article in 1984 that reviewed “social carrying capacity” applied to recreation and concluded that it was “…not an absolute value waiting to be discovered, but rather a range of values which must be related to specific management objectives for a given area.” Bill Burch, of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (as well as a friend of mine), wrote the concept off as being essentially useless in papers that he published during 1981 and 1984 in the journal Leisure Sciences. One of his articles was aptly titled “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Nonetheless, Dan Decker and Ken Purdy, both at Cornell, wrote a paper in 1988 that extended the concept to wildlife management, modifying the term to read “wildlife acceptance capacity.” Various academics have since tried to apply this wildlife-specific concept, resurrecting the moniker of “social carrying capacity.” Ben Peyton of Michigan State University recently related the concept to wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not surprisingly, he concluded that there were four sub-populations of people typified by differing degrees of tolerance for wolves (from highly tolerant to highly intolerant), and that these levels of tolerance were rooted in basic beliefs about the benefits of wolves as well as concerns about negative impacts. He was not brash enough to construe from this how many wolves might be able to live in the Upper Peninsula. Rather, he noted that there was a wide range of highly fungible ideas about what that number might be.

An Amorphous Concept

To be fair, the concept of “social carrying capacity” gets at something fundamentally important, which is that people hold different perspectives about animals such as grizzly bears, which might translate into different ideas about how many of these animals they want, as well as willingness to encounter them or sustain material harm.

But there are huge problems with trying to package all of this in a concept such as “social carrying capacity,” which implies an ability on the part of wildlife managers to derive an unambiguous estimate of how many animals—say, grizzly bears—can live in an area, and from that arrive at some unimpeachable justification for deciding how many of these animals to kill. But such has been the presumption in virtually every instance where a wildlife manager has deployed the concept of “social carrying capacity.”

Morphous Differences

In fact, people have perspectives that engender different attitudes and expectations, with implications for how wildlife are managed. And these perspectives vary widely in reflection of different world views, different life experiences, and different external circumstances, all of which can be related to demographic proxies such as gender, age, race, place of residence, level of education, type of employment, and so on.

More explicitly, social science research has shown over and over again that white males with less education, living in rural areas, and employed in agriculture have notoriously little tolerance for large carnivores such as grizzly bears. Interestingly, most of these guys are hunters. And, of direct relevance to the drama of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, these guys dominate wildlife management by holding the purse strings and controlling wildlife commissions. Moreover, they are among the politically best connected of all in the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana where we are trying to sustain the few grizzly bears left in the contiguous United States.

Put another way, “people” are not a homogeneous blob when it comes to political power or perspectives about grizzly bears. Nor are there an unambiguous number of grizzlies (or any other wildlife species) that can be sustained given the diversity of these human perspectives. In reality, peoples’ perspectives are way too varied and fungible to be translated into anything like an estimate of “carrying capacity,” including for grizzlies in Yellowstone. Different people want different things, with only inexact notions of how that might translate into size and distribution of a wildlife population–or levels of conflict and rates of encounter.

As important, people can have huge effects on these more concrete outcomes by how they behave and whether they chose to modify their behaviors. For example, whether ranchers in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming chose to employ husbandry practices know to substantially reduce conflicts with grizzlies, or whether the US Forest Service chooses to revoke grazing permits for regressive ranchers who don’t make a good faith effort.


So, what the heck is going on with our wildlife managers? More specifically, what’s going on with state and federal managers charged with managing grizzly bears in Yellowstone?

The answer is pretty straight-forward. Grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity” as rhetorical cover for maintaining the status quo. And the status quo is largely about serving political masters (read conservative white male hunters, ranchers, or energy executives) who dominate wildlife commissions and have direct-line access to congressional delegations, state legislatures, and governor’s offices controlled by fellow regressive conservatives.

More correctly, wildlife managers are talking about political carrying capacity configured by their assessment of career prospects and the budgetary or other special interests of the wildlife management agencies they work for. To be fair, agency culture is also a major factor, including a deep-seated prejudice against predators that kill animals that would otherwise generate agency revenues through the sale of licenses to hunt large herbivores—at least according to agency myth.

Lethal Consequences

In Yellowstone, the consequences for grizzlies and those who care about them have been dramatic. The solemn intonation of “social carrying capacity” by wildlife managers has served as justification for drawing lines on maps with profound consequences for the life expectancies of grizzly bear. The current Primary Conservation Areas and Demographic Monitoring Areas for managing grizzly bears delimit the bounds beyond which these bears vaporize into the oblivion of institutionalized intolerance. Importantly, these existential lines do not denote much that is explicitly “social,” but rather much that is regionally political.

Interestingly, the notion of “social carrying capacity” was seized upon by opportunistic agency managers during 2004-2007 to capture rhetoric voiced by “advisory councils” constituted by the governors of Montana and Wyoming during 2002-2003. Notably, these highly politicized “councils,” billed as representing a “wide range of stakeholder interests,” served primarily to set the stage for the 2007 removal of ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears—a move later over-turned by federal courts. This recent history uncannily foreshadows the current widely-publicized move by Montana’s governor to convene yet another “advisory council” that will no doubt intone, yet again, the presumed diktat of “social carrying capacity” as, yet again, presumed imperative to remove ESA protections for grizzly bears throughout the Northern Rockies. Or, more transparently: kill more grizzly bears as a balm to the wounds of ranchers, farmers, and conservative ideologues sustained by already ample federal subsidies.

Betraying the Public Trust

All of this brings me back to where I started. I am aggravated, not just by the betrayal of intellectual integrity implicit to how Yellowstone’s grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity,” but also by the extent to which this usage is clearly part of a propaganda campaign that serves the partisan interests of wildlife management agencies and the politically well-connected few that they serve—not the broader public interest. It is especially egregious that a federal bureau such as the US Fish & Wildlife Service is so fully complicit in this betrayal of the public interest when this agency should be representing the interests of all people in the United States, not just ranchers and hunters in states such as Wyoming.

Social carrying capacity? The term should be relegated to the trash bin of Orwellian Politspeak.

Yellowstone’s Beloved Wolf, Spitfire, Was Killed by a Trophy Hunter

  • by: Care2 Team
  • recipient: U.S. National Park Service
240,000 GOAL
Spitfire was beloved by many. The young wolf was often spotted at Yellowstone National Park, much to the delight of wolf enthusiasts, biologists, and tourists. 

Sadly, future park-goers will never catch a glimpse of Spitfire. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks just confirmed that she was cruelly killedby a trophy hunter. What’s even worse is that her murder was completely legal. Spitfire had wandered just outside of the park, where she was no longer protected.

Please sign this petition calling for a no-hunting buffer zone around Yellowstone National Park to protect more animals from being senselessly killed for sport.

Spitfire’s mom met a similar fate six years ago, leaving Spitfire as the new leader of the Lamar Canyon Pack. According to wolf lovers, she “led her pack through a number of very difficult circumstances” and “showed incredible strength, courage and resilience in everything she did.” Now she’s gone, and the Lamar Canyon Pack is yet again without a leader.

It’s not uncommon for animals to roam just beyond national park boundaries — which is why their protection should be extended. Sign now to demand buffer zones around Yellowstone National Park.

Photo credit: Facebook