Yellowstone hit by global warming, increased visitation: report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellowstone’s vanishing wolves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fewer elk, more songbirds

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

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

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

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

Grizzly population rebound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBC Radio · 2 hours ago

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

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

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Listen23:23

Originally aired on November 28, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was such an accomplished hunter.- Nate Blakeslee

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

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

“She was such an accomplished hunter.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then they began to howl.

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

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

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

_____

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

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

Grizzly bear trophy hunt in Yellowstone area could be approved today

May 23 at 7:00 AM

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more:

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

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

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

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

Yellowstone’s grizzlies under threat from controversial hunting proposal

Nature  NEWS  03 MAY 2018

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

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

 

Giorgia Guglielmi

 

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

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

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

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

Restricted hunts

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

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

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

Size matters

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

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

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

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

Nature 557, 148-149 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05061-9

 


 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Bleier/AFP/GettyImages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackfeet bison hunt goes bad for well-known Montana singer

Jack Gladstone’s first hunt may be his last.

The well-known Montana singer, who has received the 2016 Governor’s Arts Award along with other honors and touts the nickname “Montana’s troubadour,” is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe. As such, he secured one of the first tribal permits to hunt bison near the Yellowstone National Park boundary earlier this month. This is the first year the tribe has exercised its treaty rights to hunt Yellowstone bison when they migrate into Montana near Gardiner and West Yellowstone.

But after tangling with the tribe’s game wardens, Gladstone would be happy never to hunt again.

“Because I’m a tribal member they have the authority to make my life unbearable on the reservation,” he said. “I’m very, very troubled.”

Blackfeet tribal attorney Derek Kline did not respond to a phone call to his office.

+4  

Yellowstone bison

A bison grazes along a frozen riverbed in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park on Feb. 12. Bison that migrate out of the park near Gardiner and West Yellowstone in the winter often become targets of tribal and state hunters.

BETHANY BAKER, Gazette Staff

Gardiner hunt

Few bison were migrating out of Yellowstone when Gladstone arrived in Gardiner on Feb. 7 with his wife, Patti, son-in-law Tyrel Hulet, and his friend Sam Miller. The extra folks were there to help Gladstone butcher and haul a bison if he was lucky enough to shoot and kill one of the large animals.

But the scene near the park boundary was offensive to veteran hunters Hulet and Miller. Tribal members sat in their trucks until bison wandered out of the park far enough to legally shoot. Some of the animals were injured and ran back into the park.

“It wasn’t what I expected for a hunt,” said Hulet, a Columbia Falls resident.

“That was troublesome,” Gladstone agreed.

“It was pretty wild,” said Miller, a Kila resident. “The dynamics were strange.”

The firing line, as some people refer to it, is a constant source of complaints to the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

“There are a lot of state and tribal hunters congested in a small area,” said Sheriff Scott Hamilton of the Beatty Gulch region just outside the park boundary. “People block the road with their vehicles. And some locals are upset with the way the bison are taken. There are a lot of shots, not all of them clean shots. It’s difficult for people to watch that.”

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Elk

Some Blackfeet tribal hunters were using their bison tag to shoot elk in the Gardiner area.

BRETT FRENCH/Gazette Staff

Elk instead

While at Beatty Gulch, one of the Blackfeet game wardens, three or four of whom journeyed to the area to monitor their tribal hunters, spread the word that the bison tag could also be used to take an elk. One of Gladstone’s friends shot a spike bull on Feb. 9 above Gardiner off Travertine Road. Wardens arrived, checked the hunter’s license and there was no problem.

“The next morning I had elk fever,” Gladstone said after helping his friend.

So he and his crew returned to the area to see if Gladstone could find an elk. Because Hulet and Miller had been warned that they couldn’t be near Gladstone when he shot, they all stayed in the truck while Gladstone stalked a cow elk about 250 yards from the end of the road. He shot, the elk died, and his family and friends walked over to help gut and haul the animal back to the truck.

A Blackfeet tribal warden showed up when the group was almost done. He told them to move the gut pile farther away from the road. They complied, loaded the elk into the back of Hulet’s Ford F-250 diesel and tried to drive away but were flagged down by wardens.

That’s when chief game warden Keith Lame Bear showed up. When contacted by phone on Tuesday, Lame Bear said he was too busy delivering emergency rations to outlying tribal members to discuss the incident.

+4  

Gardiner Basin

The area north of Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance, called the Gardiner Basin, is historical winter range for the park’s bison

BRETT FRENCH, Gazette Staff

Citations, accusations

“He accused us of hunting,” Hulet said. “We tried to tell him we were there just to help (Gladstone) get it out of the woods. He said, ‘You have blood on your hands. You’ve been hunting.’”

Gladstone’s crew countered that other people were being allowed to help tribal hunters with their bison, including a group of nontribal members who spend part of the winter near Beatty Gulch, and they weren’t being cited.

“There were a lot of other people running around doing the same thing,” Miller said. “I definitely felt like it was pretty personal.”

Hulet said at first that Lame Bear asked if they had enough cash to pay the $500 fine for unauthorized hunting. Hulet told him they didn’t carry that kind of money. Then the fine was raised to $12,000 for Hulet and Miller. As collateral for the fine, the wardens ordered the truck towed and impounded, the rifle and elk confiscated. Gladstone was charged with providing false information to a game warden for saying Hulet and Miller weren’t hunting with him.

“I was kind of dumbfounded,” Miller said. “It was almost like a ransom situation.

“It felt like I didn’t have any rights at that moment.”

+4  

Bison helpers

Buffalo Bridge volunteers annually gather outside Yellowstone National Park to salvage bison parts from hunters near Gardiner while also offering help to those who fill a tag.

LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

Standoff

As the argument heated up over whether the tribal wardens had authority over nontribal members off the reservation, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden arrived. He called the Park County Sheriff’s deputy, who then called the sheriff.

“I’ve never been faced with that situation before,” Sheriff Hamilton said.

So he called the state attorney general’s office. Deputy attorney general Melissa Schlichting told him if the truck had been used in the commission of a crime, it could be seized. She later learned that advice was incorrect.

“We were operating under the idea that there was an agreement between the tribe; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Yellowstone National Park,” she said. “But I was uninformed.”

After reviewing the situation the next Monday, she said no tribal game wardens have authority to seize property or even cite nontribal members for any civil infraction off the reservation.

“They can only cite tribal members for violations of their code,” Schlichting said.

“It’s really confusing, hence why we were caught flat-footed, not knowing what applied and did not apply,” she added.

Sheriff Hamilton was uncomfortable with the situation, just one of several problems and complaints surrounding bison hunting near Gardiner that his office has to deal with every winter.

“My agency expends a lot of overtime and resources down there,“ he said.

The standoff in the streets of Gardiner left Gladstone angry and ashamed.

“It was a very confusing time for the county sheriff and state game wardens,” Gladstone said. “I felt a degree of shame for the optics, they were horrible.”

+4  

Jack Gladstone
Jack Gladstone, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, went hunting for the first time in early February after receiving a tribal permit to hunt bison outside Yellowstone National Park. The hunt ended in a confusing enforcement incident by tribal wardens.

Rebecca Drobis

Negotiations

Luckily for Gladstone’s group, he had driven to Gardiner, as well, so they had a car to return home in. But the fight was not over. He appealed the fines and impoundment to the Blackfeet Nation Fish and Wildlife, aided by his attorney.

“My desire is to straighten out this approach because this looks like hell,” Gladstone said. “It’s the only way to force change.”

After long negotiations with tribal officials, they agreed to drop Hulet’s and Miller’s fines and return the truck and rifle, but not the elk. Gladstone is also prevented from hunting bison for a year.

“I say thank you,” he said, because his first — and possibly only — hunting trip turned out so badly he’s in no hurry to repeat the experience.

Gladstone agreed to talk about the situation because he fears that the way the Blackfeet Tribe is now conducting its bison hunt is unsustainable.

Sheriff Hamilton agreed that the hunt — which also involves other treaty right tribes in addition to tribes that are awarded two state bison tags — is getting congested. Montana recognizes the treaty hunting rights of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Nez Perce Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation.

“Calls actually picked up about a week ago when the Blackfeet showed up,” Hamilton said. “They came in with a large number of hunters, took 40 or 50 bison” in a couple of days “and didn’t coordinate with the other tribes. So they ruffled some feathers.”

Last Sunday, more than a week after the truck was confiscated, Hulet got his pickup back from Gardiner. The tow fee was $455. Gladstone also paid a $350 fine to the Blackfeet Nation Fish and Game. With attorney fees, the final cost of not getting an elk was close to $5,000.

“This was quite the ordeal,” Hulet said.

“It was a crazy situation,” Miller said. “It didn’t feel like anything American.”

Gladstone apologized for his part in the “misunderstanding.”

“Nothing like this is ever going to happen again if I have anything to say about it,” he said.

A Federal Court Could Save Yellowstone’s Grizzlies From the Trump Administration

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43181-a-federal-court-could-save-yellowstone-s-grizzlies-from-the-trump-administration

Wednesday, January 10, 2018    By Mike Ludwig

A grizzly bear and cubs play in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on June 3, 2017. (Photo: Wolverine 9 5)A grizzly bear and cubs play in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on June 3, 2017. (Photo: Wolverine 9 5)

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration’s decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list — a move that has paved the way for trophy hunts of the iconic animals.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are endangered and qualify for special federal protection. However, last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule that carved out the bear population in the Yellowstone region and removed it from the endangered species list. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee who oversees the wildlife agency, personally announced the change in June 2017.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land outside of the national park system, and Wyoming officials are already making plans to propose grizzly bear hunts later this year.

“We’re not anti-hunting, but we are certainly not excited about trophy hunting of grizzly bears in one of the last few places where they continue to exist,” said Timothy Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice who filed the legal request, in an interview with Truthout.

“Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter.” — Timothy Preso, Earthjustice

Preso said some hunters in the region hunt elk and other large game for food, but grizzly bears are likely to be hunted as trophies. Yellowstone grizzlies are much more valuable as icons that draw tourists to the region and as “ambassadors of wildness,” as Preso put it, than as trophies in a big-game hunter’s private collection.

“Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter,” Preso said.

A number of environmental groups and nine Native tribes sued Zinke and the Interior Department last year for removing the Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list, a designation that has helped protect their habitat from logging and oil and gas development. Zinke is aggressively working to lift restrictions on development and fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

US Fish and Wildlife is now reviewing its decision to delist the Yellowstone grizzlies and is asking for public comment in light of a recent court ruling that returned federal protections to wolves in the Great Lakes region. Officials have left the rule delisting the bears in effect while they reconsider it, allowing state game wardens to move ahead with hunting plans.

Preso said the move by US Fish and Wildlife to reconsider the decision without withdrawing it altogether is unusual. His coalition is asking a federal judge in Missoula to restore the endangered species protection to the Yellowstone grizzly bears while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their delisting decision, which they have promised to do by March 31.

Taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

“The Yellowstone region’s grizzlies deserve better than to be subjected to trophy hunting based on a half-baked government decision,” Preso said in a statement.

The environmental coalition argues that US Fish and Wildlife’s effort to review its own rulemaking is proof that the agency “did not complete its homework” before removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list. For example, conservationists say officials must research how delisting could impact the total population of endangered grizzly bears across the West.

Grizzly bears have made a comeback in the Yellowstone region, where the population has grown from 136 when the bears were originally listed as endangered in 1975 to about 690 today, according to the National Park Service. However, environmentalists warn that grizzlies across the rest of the lower 48 states have not done as well, and taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said grizzly bears occupy less than 5 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states, so they clearly have not recovered.

“Attempting to delist the Yellowstone bears and expose them to trophy hunting without considering grizzlies’ poor status overall is simply ludicrous,” Greenwald said in a statement.

Hunting is not allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, but it is allowed outside the park boundaries, where wildlife is managed by state agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wyoming officials are currently considering public input on a management plan for bears that would potentially include hunting within federal limits, according to local reports.

As predator populations slowly recover from deforestation and loss of habitat caused by human development, their territory increasingly butts up against ours. In 2016, wildlife managers captured 39 grizzly bears in Wyoming to resolve “conflicts” with humans, according to a state report. These “conflicts” typically involved bears killing livestock, eating pet food or foraging in someone’s garbage. Twenty-two of the captured bears were killed, often for having a history of “conflicts” with people and their property.

Montana won’t recommend Yellowstone grizzly hunting this year

Grizzly bear (copy)

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

Public Domain/Neal Herbert via NPS

Not this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRUMP OFFICIALS JUST PROVIDED ‘A GIFT TO TROPHY HUNTING’ IN THE FORM OF YELLOWSTONE GRIZZLY BEARS

http://www.newsweek.com/yellowstone-grizzly-bear-trump-hunting-628432?utm_source=internal&utm_campaign=right&utm_medium=related2

grizzly bear
A grizzly bear roams through the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on May 18, 2014. Conservation groups have slammed the decision to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act.JIM URQUHART/REUTERS

The decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of endangered species has been called “a gift to trophy hunting” by conservation groups.

Related: Killing of famed Yellowstone grizzly intensifies protection debate

The bear has enjoyed protected status for 42 years, during which time its numbers grew to more than 700 from just 136. On Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said it is now time to call the operation a success and to remove the bear from the Endangered Species Act, instead allowing states to take control over its future.

“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners,” Zinke said in a statement. “As a Montanan, I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

The move, which was first proposed by the previous administration of President Barack Obama last year, will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the federal register. At least immediately, it will not lead to open season on grizzly bear hunting. As well as being restricted to the bears that travel outside of the park’s boundaries, hunts will only be allowed if the number of bears remains above 600.

However, many conservationists argue that Thursday’s decision adds yet another threat to the future survival of the bears, whose habitat they say is already endangered by climate change.

“The Trump Administration’s delisting maneuver is a gift to trophy hunting and oil and gas interests,” Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, tells Newsweek in an email. “The bears continue to face an array of threats, and the last thing they need are wealthy elites chasing them down and shooting them for trophies.”

The action will not affect the nearly 1,000 grizzlies inhabiting Glacier National Park in Montana. But experts have said protections for those bears could soon similarly be removed, according to The New York Times.

Prior to the 1850s and the onset of widespread hunting and trapping, grizzly bears across North America numbered around 50,000. And some conservationists have argued that placing their conservation back in the hands of states, which can use hunting as a form of population control, is an unnecessary risk. Indeed, Tim Preso, an attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice, has said that legal action to prevent the change is already being considered.

“We’re certainly prepared to take a stand to protect the grizzly, if necessary,” he told the Associated Press. “There’s only one Yellowstone. There’s only one place like this. We ought not to take an unjustified gamble with an iconic species of this region.”

In addition to conservation groups, the move has also been opposed by Native American tribes, for whom the grizzly bear is a sacred animal. A treaty opposing hunting of the bear has been signed by 125 tribes.

Zinke, a former senator from Montana, has a lifetime score of just 4 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, with the group indicating that of 73 votes on bills with environmental impact, only three were pro-environment.

Trump’s two sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are known to be fond of big-game hunting and have previously attracted criticism for posing for photos alongside dead animals, including a leopard and an elephant.

What went so wrong with Trump sons that they could kill this beautiful creature