Don’t let states manage grizzly bears to extinction

Wyoming and Idaho proposed limited hunts after federal protections were removed.

 

Wendy Keefover is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is the native carnivore protection manager for The Humane Society of the United States, based in Colorado.


Once the federal government gave Wyoming and Idaho the authority to manage grizzly bears, one thing was certain: Animals would die. The change will also mean lasting losses for local economies within the grizzly’s range.

Over the last three years, the 700 or fewer grizzly bears that roam the Yellowstone ecosystem have faced an unsustainable mortality rate, with about 175 deaths. Even so, last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stripped Endangered Species Act protections from these bears and turned over their management to wildlife agencies in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

A grizzly bear near Swan Lake, in Yellowstone National Park.

Now, Wyoming and Idaho have proposed “historic” grizzly bear trophy hunts, marking the first time that grizzly bears have been legally hunted in the lower 48 states since 1975. At first glance, the planned quotas seem relatively small: 24 bears in Wyoming, and one bear in Idaho. Upon closer scrutiny, though, the picture becomes clearer: Killing grizzlies for trophies, on top of other threats, could drive the bears back to the brink of extinction.

What’s at stake? In the early 1800s, somewhere between 47,000 and 72,000 grizzly bears existed in the lower 48 states, according to David Mattson, a wildlife biologist and grizzly bear expert. Now, they number fewer than 2,000. Yet state agencies target this isolated population living within and around Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

Culling the largest, healthiest members, as hunters typically do by targeting “trophy” males, means that hunting will weaken the gene pool. Other bears will die inadvertently, as the remaining males vie for mates and space. Moreover, whenever a hunter kills a mother bear, it is likely to cause the deaths of her dependent bear cubs. That will also reduce reproduction and recruitment, sparking a dangerous downward spiral for an already fragile population.

Management of these bears relies on an agreement signed by Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, which lays out particular zones within which the bears have varying levels of protection. Within the national parks, no hunting of grizzly bears is allowed. But immediately outside of the parks, there lies an area within which the three states collectively manage the bear population, divvying up available hunting quotas and providing scant protections beyond maintaining a population minimum of 500 bears. Top conservation biologists agree that the grizzly bear population has not yet fully recovered and say it was prematurely delisted under the Endangered Species Act. The delisting will allow the population to decline by more than 200 bears to the minimum population of 500 bears. This is well past the point of no return at which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to intervene.

A major danger to the bears is the lack of “buffer zones” around the parks’ perimeter, which means that all Wyoming grizzly bears — including those residing part-time in the parks — are in the crosshairs. Over the objections of many conservation groups as well as of Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk, Wyoming and Idaho will allow hunting right up to the borders of the parks.

A grizzly bear sow and cubs in Yellowstone National Park.

Of course, bears don’t recognize borders; their instinct is to move in and out of the parks according to the seasonal availability of food. But the moment the animals step out of the parks, they become targets. Hunters can even kill bears with the help of smelly bait piles in two zones in Wyoming, a method of killing that makes a mockery of the concept of “fair chase.”

Wyoming and Idaho have made it plain that they will manage the hunting of the bears extremely aggressively. If this is management, it is a travesty.

Like the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem itself, our grizzly bears are national treasures essential to tourism. According to a 2017 report, travel spending in Wyoming amounted to $8.9 million per day, for a total of $3.2 billion in 2016. Wyoming’s tourism has increased annually by 4.3 percent since 2000, with visitors supporting 32,000 Wyoming jobs and generating $894 million in salaries in the travel industry, and $171 million in 2016 in state and local taxes.

With tourism keeping Wyoming’s local economies humming, Wyoming and Idaho ought to manage their grizzly bear populations for sustainability and the benefit of all Americans. Bears don’t exist merely for the small number of hunters who want a self-portrait with a dead bear to “show off” on social media, along with a mounted trophy for their living-room wall.

There is still time to act. Citizens can submit comments to Wyoming and Idaho on the web here (Wyoming) and here (Idaho). Wyoming will accept comments until April 30 and Idaho until May 3. The Wyoming Game Commission will decide the fate of Yellowstone-area bears at its May 23 hearing in Lander.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...