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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunting to Scare Grizzlies?

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

Hunting to Scare Grizzlies?

January 13, 2016

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David Mattson

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

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

Although some people obviously consider hunting to be a self-evident guarantor of human safety, there is, in fact, little or no empirical support for this proposition. There is essentially no evidence that a sport hunt instils fear in grizzlies. The proposition also defies logic and everything that we otherwise know about grizzly bears. If nothing else, how can a dead bear learn anything? A point that has been made by many others besides me.

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

Grizzly Bear Fundamentals

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

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

So, a couple of key points are worth making at this juncture: First, grizzlies seem to be hard-wired genetically to deal with perceived threats aggressively. Second, and perhaps more importantly, grizzlies can become less reactive to people, not as a result of heightened fear, but rather as a result of the opposite. These fundamentals alone call into question the logic of using hunting to increase human safety. Killing grizzlies (and, as I address later, we’ve done a lot of that even with ESA protections) is unlikely to rewire the genetic underpinnings of their behavior; and less fear rather than more is probably going to make people safer, especially if we continue to reduce the number of circumstances (e.g., garbage around human residences or hunters near freshly-killed elk) that allow people to do things that trigger aggressive responses from even the most tolerant bears. More on that a little later.

Welcome to the Vacuum

Another important point to make up front is that we know virtually nothing about the behavioral and motivational responses of bears to hunting, certainly little that is grounded in research. The closest we come is a study out of Scandinavia showing that hunted brown bears increased their night-time activity, with little obvious relevance to whether humans were thereby safer. A  coarse-grained review by Jon Swenson, a Scandinavian bear researcher (and, for a while, a Montana biologist), suggested that hunted European brown bears might be more wary, but that this possible behavioral response was trumped by whether food was available near people. Bears were likely to seek out food regardless of whether they were hunted or not, which goes back to my point immediately above about garbage and hunter-generated carrion.

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

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

The Immediate Circumstances of Attacks

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

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

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

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

And We’ve Already Run the Experiment

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

And What About Yellowstone Park?

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

But We Probably Can Make Bears Fear Us Even More

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

The wolves that survived the night

December 22, 2015, 05:00 pm

By Tim Preso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preso is an Earthjustice attorney based in Bozeman, Montana.

A record 59 grizzlies died in the Yellowstone ecosystem in 2015

By | December 22, 2015 <!–






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Conflicts with hunters and livestock were among the reasons a record 59 grizzly bears died in the Yellowstone ecosystem in 2015, the federal government’s grizzly coordinator said last week.

In addition to running into hunters and being removed for killing stock, grizzlies also faced a dry year and were seen more often in developed areas, said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He leads the effort to establish an enduring population in the Yellowstone region.

The number of deaths “was the highest number of grizzly mortalities in the Yellowstone Ecosystem since 1970,” Servheen said in an email. He put the number in perspective, writing that the losses are “not a big deal in terms of population-level impacts.

“Remember,” he wrote, “that there are three times as many bears in the ecosystem today as in 1970.” An estimated 717 grizzlies live in the ecosystem today, according to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, but some question the accuracy of that figure.

Grizzly deaths are recorded according to sex and age. The number of females older than two years is an important component of the population. Consequently, managers have set an annual limit for adult female mortalities at 7.6 percent of the population.

In 2015 adult female grizzly deaths exceeded that figure by 0.1 percent, Servheen wrote. Adult males died at 11.7 percent, well below their 15 percent limit.

“Bottom line is that annual mortalities fluctuate in natural systems and individual years will vary,” Servheen wrote.

Numbers are key part of Endangered Species Act delisting

The health and size of the population are critical factors as the federal government begins to remove Endangered Species Act protection from the Yellowstone-area population. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana could subsequently institute a grizzly hunting season.

Fifty-five of the deaths in 2015 were human-caused. Investigators are probing the death of 19 Yellowstone-area grizzly bears, according to the mortality table. “Investigation” is a label applied to probes of grizzlies believed killed by hunters, poachers or nefarious actors.

Fourteen bears were killed or otherwise removed from the population for conflicts with livestock and 12 for getting human food or for property damage, the 2015 mortality table shows. Five bears were euthanized through management actions, four died as a result of collisions with vehicles, two were natural deaths and three bears died of unknown causes.

The 2015 mortality figure of “known and probable” deaths exceeds the previous annual high of 55 that was set in 2012, grizzly bear advocate and watchdog Louisa Willcox wrote WyoFile in an email. There also are unrecorded bear deaths, she said, and they could bring the 2015 tally up to 90 bears.

Although the federal population estimate was set at 717, it covers a range that could be as low as 642, Willcox said. That led to her worst-case estimate.

“Bottom line: there could be as few as 552 bears in the ecosystem,” she wrote. If 90 bears out of 642 were killed, that amounts to 12 percent of the official population number and would bring the ecosystem count to “below the basement level of 600.”

Six hundred is the fewest bears that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would allow — after delisting — before it would prohibit “discretionary mortality.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe referenced that limit in a letter he sent to state game directors in September.

An agency spokeswoman said the 600-bear minimum likely would never be reached after Endangered Species Act protections are removed. “The goal would be to manage for approximately 674 grizzly bears to ensure a sustainable and resilient population that utilizes the entire available habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Serena Baker wrote in an email. “We do not anticipate population numbers to dip down to 600 bears.”

Members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team also say the population survey could under-estimate bears by 40 percent. That wide range perplexes some, including Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. That nonprofit advocacy group asked Ashe in November for a “definitive GYE grizzly bear survey.”

Federal estimates spread over a range of plus or minus 472 bears, wrote Kent Nelson, director of the group. “At this point IGBST’s ‘best available science’ starts looking more like a wild-ass guess,” Nelson wrote Ashe.

“There is a far better alternative to the chaotic situation,” he wrote. That would constitute “a survey of the GYE grizzly population using DNA hair analysis.”

The current estimates are based on mathematical modeling, following observations, including those made from aerial surveys.

Clarification: The official 717 count is for the “Demographic Monitoring Area,” that covers about 20,000 square miles across most, but not all, of the Yellowstone ecosystem. The IGBC mortality chart includes bears killed throughout the ecosystem. Officials have said 10 Yellowstone ecosystem grizzlies died in 2015 outside the DMA — Ed.

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Yellowstone National Park proposes to kill 1,000 bison

http://www.13wmaz.com/story/news/2015/11/18/yellowstone-national-park-proposes-to-kill-1000-bison/76026084/

Yellowstone National Park proposes to kill roughly 1,000 wild bison this winter – mostly calves and females – as officials seek to curb the animals’ annual migration into Montana.

Park officials will meet Thursday with representatives of American Indian tribes, the state and other federal agencies to decide on the plan. It marks the continuation of a controversial 2000 agreement between Montana and the federal government that calls for killing bison to prevent the spread of disease to livestock.

Almost 5,000 bison roamed the park this summer. A harsh winter could drive thousands into areas of southwestern Montana.

Hunters, including from tribes with treaty rights in the Yellowstone area, are anticipated to kill more than 300 of the animals. Others would be captured for slaughter or research purposes.

 

Hunters defending themselves from bears are the No. 1 cause of death of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem ‏

Documents detail outcome of bear, hunter conflicts in Greater Yellowstone
The Jackson Hole News and Guide’s Freedom of Information Act requests to the agencies that deal with grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area found that hunters defending themselves from bears are the No. 1 cause of death of grizzly bears in that ecosystem, and that bear spray is mentioned in only a quarter of the 24 investigations of a hunter’s killing a grizzly in self defense.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; October 7

 Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Grizzly “recovered” in Yellowstone Ecosystem

https://wlj.net/article-11907-grizzly-recovered-in-yellowstone-ecosystem.html

Aug 21, 2015

A male grizzly bear feeds on a carcass in Northwest Wyoming.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department

The number of grizzly bears has reached the point of recovery and it’s time to delist. So say ranchers and wildlife management officials in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem area. This area includes a large section of northwest Wyoming, southeastern Montana and eastern Idaho, as well as Yellow stone National Park.

It should be noted that the Yellowstone Ecosystem extends far beyond the boundaries of the national park and sometimes causes confusion by people who don’t want grizzly bears managed in an area they perceive to be the park.

The grizzly bear is currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to Scott Talbott, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. This is somewhat different than “endangered,” Talbott said. But the bottom line remains: They are federally protected in the Yellowstone Ecosys tem.

The bear has been under scrutiny for many years. Grizzlies were listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the authority of the ESA in 1975. At that time, 136 grizzlies were thought to live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The goal of an ESA listing is to recover a species to a self-sustaining, viable population. In the case of the grizzly the sustainable goal was set at 500.

Recovery levels were attained and the grizzly was delisted in 2007 with a conservation strategy in place. However several parties including environmental protectionist groups sued, arguing not enough evidence existed to show adequate habitat and that one of the bears’ primary food sources— whitebark pine nuts—was in decline. A judge ruled in favor of the environmentalists and the bear was relisted in 2009.

Talbott said a new study was completed and made public in December 2014. Since that time the study group has been working with USFWS and he said they are hopeful a new rule will be released soon, although there is not a clear timetable. “We (representatives from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) have repeatedly met with the service (USFWS) to initiate that process and move it forward,” Talbott told WLJ.

The study examined populations of bears based on guidelines that determined 500 to be a sustainable number. The agencies and scientists studying the animal reported 757 bears.

Another study reports numbers as high as 1,200 animals, but Talbot noted that difference is due to different study methods.

The Yellowstone Ecosystem subcommittee (YES) study team, which consists of state and federal biologists, uses a process known as Choa2, a statistical estimate for counting grizzly bear concentrations. This study provides the official count of 757, which Talbott calls a very conservative estimate.

The other group conducting bear population studies is the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), which uses a mark-resight estimate. This method looks at animals that are trapped and tagged due to conflicts. Officials then count how many times they are seen verses unmarked bears in the population. Talbott said this method hasn’t been finalized and provides a much higher number than the Chao2 method.

Dan Thompson, Large Carnivore Section Supervisor with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, spoke about the different numbers when counting the grizzly population, saying, “I know that people think we are being disingenuous but we’re trying to make sure that we’re not portraying something that’s not defendable by science. I’m very comfortable saying that the 757 number is accurate based on the data analysis technique we’ve used for years, but we know it’s biased low.”

Clearly we have exceeded all of the recovery criteria, Talbott said. “We feel we have a very strong assessment of whitebark pine habitat and have answered all of those questions and we need to move forward with delisting.”

Although the grizzly bear lives throughout the three-state ecosystem, its population is largest in Wyoming, with about 50 percent outside of the national park and only 25 percent within park boundaries. Talbott said the remaining population is pretty evenly split with 12.5 percent in Idaho and 12.5 percent in Montana.

YES and IGBC have both recommended that grizzly bears be removed from threatened status.

From a financial standpoint delisting also makes sense. Talbott said the state of Wyoming currently spends $1.4 million per year on grizzly bear management. A portion of that is spent to compensate landowners and livestock producers for confirmed losses from grizzly bears. The amount of compensation in 2007 was $83,000 and in FY 2015 the state paid $486,842 for livestock loss reimbursement.

Albert Sommers, a cattle rancher and President of the Upper Green River Cattle Association (UGRCA), who also serves in the Wyoming House of Representatives for District 20, talked with WLJ about some of the issues he and his organization have seen with the grizzly.

The UGRCA knows firsthand the impact of bear depredations. That association consists of about nine ranchers who have grazing allotments within the Yellowstone Ecosystem. He said they are permitted 7,000 cattle on the allotment of approximately 130,000 acres, and currently run between 5,900 to 6,000 head (a cow/calf pair counts as one).

Sommers said the first bear kill on their allotment was confirmed in 1993. Cattle losses between 1990-1994 from all sources and prior to the arrival of large carnivores including wolves were about 2 percent annually. As the bear increased its range and population, by 2000 calf losses were closer to 8-10 percent. Sommers said wolves are included in the conversation, but of 75 head of cattle killed last year, a majority were taken by grizzlies. He added that as of Aug. 14 of this year, more than 50 animals had been lost to bears and four to wolves.

Managing the bear means managing cattle, and Sommers said it’s harder to manage grass when the cattle won’t go into timbered pockets to graze because grizzlies are in the area. “We’ve moved from having riders just moving cattle to grass and watching for sick animals to having their primary goal being to look for depredated carcasses. That’s the only way you can get a management action,” he told WLJ. “We’re trying to think outside the box on what we can and can’t do to reduce predation, but there’s no silver bullet.”

Because a large population of bears resides in northwest Wyoming, conflicts with livestock are occurring more often. Talbott said the expansion of grizzly bears extends off of forest land to private property east of Cody, WY.

There have also been documented sightings west of Lander, WY, in the Wind River Mountains and as far south as the Big Piney, WY, area.

Our number one priority is human safety, Thompson said. “But with increased population and increased human activity, there’s more opportunity for conflict.”

Although human engagements with bears are rare, earlier this month Yellowstone National Park officials confirmed a hiker was killed by a grizzly bear attack within the park. Evidence pointed to a female bear as his attacker, they said. The bear was captured and euthanized and her cubs will be relocated to a zoo this fall.

So far there hasn’t been any movement by the USFWS or any other group to delist the bear. When a new rule is published it will go through the federal rule-making process, which includes a public comment period before being enacted.

All of the officials WLJ spoke with pointed out that if the bear is delisted it will still be managed. And while there may be limited hunting, it will not be a significant number. More importantly, delisting will give state wildlife officials more flexibility in dealing with problematic grizzlies. Currently when the decision is made to capture, relocate or put down a bear, the state must work with USFWS. Thompson said state and federal wildlife officials work together, but as long as the bear remains on the threatened list, all final decisions rest with the USFWS.

Sommers said he tells people that maintaining endangered species on the landscape requires working landscapes in the West to continue, and working landscapes are all about ranching. “If we want to keep sage-grouse, grizzly bears, wolves, all of that, we as a nation have to find a way to make it work for ranchers. And work for working landscapes—that is absolutely essential.”

Sommers concluded, “This is really good proof that the Endangered Species Act worked. So this is actually a success story, if the environmentalists will allow it to be a success story.”

Excerpts from What It Takes to Kill a Grizzly Bear

by Doug Peacock
Yellowstone grizzly bears face the two greatest threats to their survival in our lifetime: global warming and the U.S. government. Between them they could wipe the bears out.
 One cold October day in 1968, I climbed out of a warm creek on the Yellowstone Plateau and came face to face with a huge grizzly. I froze, not knowing what to do. Since I was naked, my options were limited. I slowly turned my head and looked off to the side. The giant bear flicked his ears and, with unmistakable restraint, swung away and disappeared into the trees. Standing in the chill breeze of autumn, I knew something had passed between us.
That peaceful standoff with the grizzly was the first of hundreds of such bear encounters whose force would shape my journey for decades to come, significantly changing the declination of my life’s compass. I was lost, fresh back from Vietnam, searching, maybe, for a peril the equivalent of war but aimed in the direction of life. That bear and his clan literally saved me. The notion of “payback” (as coined by grunts in Vietnam) means that when you receive a gift from the bear, you find a way to pay it back. It took me a while to figure that out.

***

Today, the Yellowstone grizzly bear faces the two greatest threats to its survival in our lifetime. The first deadly threat is global warming, which has already decimated the grizzly’s most important food source. The second potentially fatal threat comes from agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) who want to remove the federal protections of the Endangered Species Act from Yellowstone’s grizzlies (called delisting) and turn bear management over to the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

“Management” for these three states means hunting licenses. So a combination of trophy grizzly bear permits and a lack of deterrents for just shooting any old bear on sight could lead to the killing of 100-200 additional grizzlies per year. There are as many as 600 or 700 grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone area. This bear population is an island ecosystem, isolated physically and genetically from other grizzlies living in northern Montana or Idaho. The grizzly has one of the lowest reproductive rates of any land mammal in North America; once you start killing off more bears than are born into this marooned population, you’re headed down the road to extinction for the Yellowstone grizzly.

The government claims the Yellowstone grizzly bear population is large, healthy, has steadily grown in number and is ready to be delisted. Independent scientists say these claims are bogus, that a clear pattern of political bias runs throughout the feds’ arguments, and that this bias exhibited by government servants is nothing less than a betrayal of public trust. Why the government is so vehemently eager to delist the grizzly remains a troublesome question.

FWS’s effort to strip these bears of federal protections will be challenged in court by pro-grizzly advocates. This fight looks like it will emerge as the major American wildlife campaign of the decade. Conservationists and Native tribes are already picking sides.

***

Yellowstone National Park serves as a microcosm, a model for modern people living with wild nature, a guide for humans coexisting with wild animals and with the wilderness that was once their home. Like most other national parks and monuments, Yellowstone is isolated—an island ecosystem afloat in a sea of human dominated landscapes. Unlike other parks in the lower states, Yellowstone is still home to all the larger mammals that were here when the first European explorers arrived—the wolf, bison, wolverine, lynx and, especially, the grizzly bear. This great bear is Yellowstone’s most iconic animal, both famous and exceedingly notorious, as legendary creatures have always been.

***

                                            Trophy Hunting  

If the federal government succeeds in removing the Yellowstone grizzly from Endangered Species-listing, bear management will be transferred to the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. “Management” in this situation means issuing permits for trophy grizzly hunts. As Gilbert says: “Delisting … will resurrect a so-called ‘trophy’ grizzly bear hunt, a historical tradition out of touch with current principles of wildlife management.”

How many permits will the three states put out there? If Wyoming indeed wants to issue 60 permits, Montana and Idaho won’t be far behind. Back in the ’60s, when hunting grizzlies was legal, biologists found that 47 percent of all bear mortality was caused by big game hunters.

One can quibble about how many legal hunting permits will be issued by Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and how successful that grizzly hunt will be, but what is certain is that a climate will be created where it will be very easy for anyone to kill a Yellowstone grizzly, for any reason. If you doubt that, look at the history of these Northern Rocky Mountain states with the recently delisted wolf.

On Sept. 30, 2012, FWS delisted the gray wolf and transferred wildlife management to the states. In Wyoming, protected wolves became legal vermin overnight—subject to being shot on sight in approximately 90 percent of the state as of October 1. In the other 10 percent of Wyoming, wolf-hunting season opened that same day. The state of Idaho paid a bounty hunter to kill wolves in the Salmon River country. My own state of Montana’s wolf record is no better. These hostile attitudes towards top predators will create a virtual “open season” on grizzlies once the Yellowstone bear is delisted.

In 2008, the first year after the collapse of whitebark pine nuts as food, the government estimated that 79 grizzlies died in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Fifty-six grizzlies were known to die in 2012—rough numbers that probably represent about half of actual mortality. With delisting, relaxed regulations, and hunting quotas, you might add in another one or two hundred dead grizzlies. During bad drought years, which global warming models predict for Yellowstone, you could end up with 300 dead grizzlies in this island ecosystem during a single year. At that point, it wouldn’t matter how many hundreds of bears are in Yellowstone: In a species with a very low reproductive rate, this is a blueprint for turning the grizzly bear of Yellowstone into nothing more than a legend, fading with memory into the hot sagebrush.

Resistance

Yellowstone’s grizzlies have many friends and an international constituency that reaches far beyond the region. As citizens, we could mobilize and petition President Obama to order the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw the proposed order to delist the bear.

But why do the feds continue to cling so fiercely to their need to delist Yellowstone’s grizzlies? I put this bedrock question to Louisa Willcox, who has unfalteringly defended the grizzly for three decades, variously representing the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity. The answer, she says, is “about power and ego.” Willcox blames Chris Servheen, “the longest running recovery coordinator (of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) in the history of the Endangered Species Act,” for whom “delisting Yellowstone grizzly bears would be the capstone in his career. In accomplishing delisting, Servheen is taking personal revenge against those who have worked assiduously for years to stop delisting and secure more protections for grizzly bears: for him, this agenda is personal.” For the feds, she says, “delisting is, at bottom, about appeasing the states; FWS believes, despite lack of evidence, that such moves will save the Endangered Species Act. The shrill demands of states like Wyoming only amplifies the imperative for the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist bears.”

More: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/23/what-it-takes-to-kill-a-grizzly-bear.html

Yellowstone: a Dangerous Place—for Bears

Text and Wildlife Photography©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography©Jim Robertson

Much has been speculated since the Yellowstone employee was recently found partially consumed by a bear and her two cubs. For example, it can’t be known for certain that the popular bear nicknamed “Blaze” was the one who caused his death—teeth and claws do not leave fingerprints. Likewise, the bear’s motive for killing can’t be known for sure either. Sometimes humans just die easily. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, entitled, “Forget bears: Here’s what really kills people at national parks,” folks are far more likely to die of drowning, car accident, a fall, suicide, pre-existing condition, heat or cold exposure than by wildlife (which is last on the list in descending order).

But the motive for killing the bear was pretty clear: an eye for an eye. This was an act of revenge. You don’t kill a human in this park and get away with it—especially if you yourself are not human. What will the paying park patrons think? After all, the park was created “for the people.” Never mind that grizzly bears are threatened with extinction in the lower 48; are losing habitat daily to anthropogenic climate change and those roughly 700 in Yellowstone have nowhere else to go. The parks are their last semi-safe refuges from savage, heavily armed humans who call for their deaths at every turn. Humans throughout the world kill (and sometimes eat) bears by the tens of thousands on a regular basis.

And never mind that humans, at 7.3 billion and counting, have practically no other1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_n natural predators. Or that by the end of the century when we reach our projected 11 Billion, the Earth’s few remaining lions, tigers and grizzly bears, etc., will either be things of the past adorning someone’s walls or floors, or be locked up as zoo relics. Their lives in the wild will be so over-managed as to be non-existent.

Justice is swift in Yellowstone, especially against the wildlife, whose destruction is pawned-off as euthanasia; or if they leave the park, “harvest.” Get ready for grizzly bear “harvest” to become commonplace unless we stop the plan to delist them from their Threatened status. After all, they’re just another “big game” animal, and the growing number of people need more and more trophy hunting opportunities for the future.

If Blaze’s killing was anything more than simple revenge, it was another statement to the world that humans are top dogs and the laws of Nature (somehow, by virtue of human arrogance) do not apply to us. Don’t mess with us humans or we’ll have you euthanized, you lowly wild ursine, feline, canine, piscine, etc.

Ever since the fatal attack on the park employee, Yellowstone has posted signs all over warning about dangerous bears, but what they really need are signs warning the bears to behave themselves or we’ll trap and euthanize you and maybe take away your Threatened status protections. Then the end result will be a lot more than an eye for an eye!

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