Grizzly war

Scientists, activists and politicians clash over taking away the great bruin’s federal protection

  • Bridger Teton National Forest

    Diane Sylvain
  • STILL ON THE LIST: Grizzly bear

    Wyoming Game and Fish Department photo
  • Dave Mattson holds biscuit root, food for grizzlies

    Jeff Tollefson photo
  • GRIZZLY CZAR: Chris Servheen

    Mark Matthews photo
  • A grizzly bear sow and cub in Middle Creek, Shoshone Nat'l Forest

    Leon Jenson photo
  • THE THREATS: Drilling rig in Wyoming's Owl Creek Mtns.

    Dewey Vanderhoff photo
  • ORVs and roads in the greater Yellowstone area

    courtesy Tim Crawford and GYC
  • Encroaching development in Montana

    courtesy Greater Yellowstone Coalition

BOZEMAN, Mont. - David Mattson, a quiet, introverted field ecologist with a yen for fine literature and a genius for crunching data, never intended to become a foot soldier in the Great Yellowstone Grizzly War, let alone emerge a prominent casualty. But one morning five years ago, Mattson's career as a rising star of grizzly bear research began to take a profound turn.

Arriving for work at the Yellowstone Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, then an arm of the National Park Service, Mattson discovered that his office had been raided. Someone had emptied his research files and deleted his computer documents, taking data he had spent years pulling together.

Then Mattson learned that the rifling was an inside job: A memo from his supervisor, Richard Knight, leader of the grizzly bear study team, provided a confounding motive. "The "raid on your office," Knight wrote, "was simply my retrieval of data that I am responsible for before it was used to further criticize the government."

Knight later informed Mattson that all of his incoming and outgoing mail would be screened for signs of subversion, that his travel budget would be slashed to prevent him from conferring with other biologists, and that he would be reassigned to a desk job. He also let Mattson know, again by memo, that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Chris Servheen - the man known as the government's "grizzly bear czar' - might soon cut off research funding if Mattson caused trouble. (Servheen denies that he ever threatened to withdraw funding, and Knight later confirmed that in another memo.)

News of the raid sent tremors throughout the insular world of bear scientists. Mattson was one of the most published bear researchers in the country, respected by his peers as a thorough and careful analyst. However, Mattson openly challenged the scientific basis for removing the Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly - the icon species of America's first national park - from the federal list of threatened animals.

In meetings closed to the public, Servheen and the interagency committee had begun talking seriously about declaring the great bruin "recovered" under the Endangered Species Act and handing off management authority to the states. Grizzly numbers were on the rise, and pressure to delist, particularly from politicians in economically slumping Wyoming, was intensifying. Among those pressing the action were the oil and gas, timber and livestock industries, as well as big-game hunters.

Mattson warned his peers that lowering the shield of protection could be a huge mistake, according to his research into the deterioration of grizzly habitat caused by roads, development and a burgeoning human population in the region. But he was told to keep quiet, and a few months after the raid on his office, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee suddenly announced that it would begin the process of delisting before the end of the century.

Five years later, the grizzly is still under federal protection. But that could change. Buoyed by an apparent spurt in the number of Yellowstone grizzlies and continued pressure from neighboring states, the Fish and Wildlife Service is putting the final touches on a grizzly management plan that could allow the delisting process to begin as early as next year. It's part of a growing trend in the West: States want to wrest authority over endangered species from federal managers.

But like the battle over coastal salmon in the Pacific Northwest (HCN, 10/26/98), it won't happen without a fight. Mattson, who now works with the United States Geological Survey at the University of Idaho in Moscow, is one of many scientists and conservationists who charge the government's plan is based on flawed assumptions and corrupted by political meddling. A coalition of environmental groups is prepared to challenge the committee in court should it try to turn management over to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Behind the emotion loom broader policy questions: Should the grizzly, already reduced to less than 1 percent of its historic range in the lower 48, lose federal protection when its short-term outlook seems positive, yet its mid- to long-term prospects for survival appear bleak? Is the grizzly bear recovery zone - the area where bears are afforded strict protection against human threats - sufficient to keep bears alive forever?

Beyond that, are the states - historically hostile to grizzlies - capable of defending bears against traditional land users without a federal hammer over their heads?

The answers lie in a complicated labyrinth of biological research, political alliances and fragmenting pieces of bear habitat.

A remarkable comeback

Not even the most protective bear-advocates deny that Ursus arctos horribilis has rebounded in the Yellowstone ecosystem in recent years.

According to official estimates now circulated by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), the government's political body in charge of grizzly bear recovery in the lower 48 states, bear numbers in the Yellowstone area are way up. There are between 400 and 600 bears, or more than double the number when the grizzly was officially listed as threatened in 1975, says Chris Servheen. Most population demographers prescribe 500 bruins as the lowest starting point for assuring long-term survival.

A quarter century ago, bear numbers had plummeted to perhaps fewer than 200, after Yellowstone National Park initiated a bold strategy of closing trash dumps to wean grizzlies from unnatural foods. An estimated 140 bears conditioned to feed on garbage died soon after, prompting alarm within the scientific community that the Yellowstone grizzly population was crashing.

Emergency listing of the bear population under the then-nascent Endangered Species Act brought a heated end to trophy bear hunting on the public and private lands around the park; yet the grizzly was still in trouble in the early 1980s.

"By 1982, we had as few as 30 breeding females in the population," explains Servheen. Because grizzlies only breed every third year, that meant only around 10 females were producing cubs each year. "At that time, people were still feeding bears, outfitters were still spreading bacon grease around their campsites, and a lot of bears were getting shot," he recalls.

To stop the spiral, the federal government and the governors of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming created a new body to oversee grizzly recovery. The ad hoc Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee included the heads of state game agencies, regional managers of the Forest Service and National Park Service, state BLM directors, and the supervisors of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Servheen, a bear biologist who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Montana in Missoula, was chosen as the committee's team leader.

"The IGBC basically set about sanitizing the ecosystem," says Servheen. "We cleaned up the garbage on Forest Service and private lands. We put law enforcement out there. As a result, people have changed the way they do business. The average elk hunter knows how to hang his meat out of reach of bears."

Those modifications in human behavior slowed the rate of grizzly deaths to the point that Servheen now says the grizzly population is growing at an annual rate of nearly 5 percent. The number of breeding females, he notes, has jumped to between 90 and 100. "We've seen more than 60 cubs a year for the last three years," he says.

What isn't trumpeted is the fact that a large number of bears have died over the past five years in conflicts with humans. And some scientists say the numbers cited by Servheen are suspect because they are based on field observations, not on actual biological census.

Still, there's no dispute that bears are spreading into places they haven't been seen in years, and dispersing through an ecosystem of 18 million acres, or 28,000 square miles. At the heart of it lie Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Surrounding them are seven national forests, several million acres of Bureau of Land Management holdings and 2 million acres of private lands.

From the North Fork of the Shoshone River near Cody, Wyo., east of Yellowstone, to the muddy river drainages around Jackson Hole where they have attacked cows in the Gros Ventre mountains, grizzlies have been wandering. They've ambled within a few miles of urban Bozeman, Mont., and are reportedly in the vicinity of the Crazy Mountains. To the northeast, they have been seen in the Gravelly and Tobacco Roots mountains on the west side of the Madison Valley.

These locales are hundreds of miles apart - an area that, if placed in New England, would equal Vermont and New Hampshire combined. The interagency committee and Wyoming politicians point to this dispersal and the increase in breeding females as evidence the grizzly is doing well and has met or surpassed nearly every recovery criterion needed to delist the species.

Says Servheen, "I have every confidence that the grizzly will survive into the distant future here in Yellowstone."

Servheen has been less outspoken about his conflict with Mattson. "Personalities had something to do with it, but it's a personal matter," he says.

"(Mattson) is a good biologist, but there's more to life than being a good biologist."

Mattson is not the only biologist, however, to question Servheen's optimism regarding the future of the Yellowstone bears.

When good news is not

"We have a lot more bears (in Yellowstone) than we did a decade ago. That's the good news," says John Varley, director of Yellowstone National Park's research office. "But considering the patterns of human encroachment into grizzly habitat beyond our borders, I would have to say the long-term prognosis is fairly negative."

Few understand that paradox better than Mattson. He cites the phenomenon of population "lag effects' - first posited by biologist Dan Doak in the Journal of Conservation Biology - in which high bear numbers today may reflect healthier habitat conditions from years past, such as good natural food crops that have since declined. Similarly, Mattson and others believe the accumulating effects of eroding habitat today may not be detectable until well into the next century.

"What ostensibly could look like a large number of bears might be deceiving, because the stuff that drives a short-term increase might have deteriorated significantly, and you might not see that reflected for a decade or more," says Mattson. "By the time you recognize it, it could be too late. The point is, we don't know what the numbers mean."

Outside the park, pressures on grizzly habitat mount daily. The 20 counties comprising the greater Yellowstone ecosystem collectively have one of the fastest-growing human populations in the West, with new residential subdivisions platted in bear habitat nearly every month.

The glitzy ski resort community of Big Sky, Mont. (HCN, 3/31/97), for example, though only three decades old, stretches across the entire Madison mountain range from the Gallatin River to the Madison Valley. It blocks bears from historic prime habitat.

Traditional extractive industries continue to seek more public territory. In the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone national forests, more than a half-million acres are being considered for oil and gas exploration. If commercial quantities of those fuels are found, energy development and extensive road building could drive bears from key habitat. The Forest Service also is contemplating whether to open thousands of miles of hiking and horse-packing trails to off-road vehicle users, which could further displace bears.

"When you fly in the Yellowstone region, as large and wild as it is compared to other areas in the lower 48, I don't think you can look out the window in any direction without seeing some kind of human activity," says Chuck Schwartz, the new leader of the Yellowstone Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, who just moved to the Northern Rockies after spending 21 years studying bears in sparsely populated Alaska.

Few bears can live their entire lives in the Yellowstone region without stumbling into an elk hunter, confronting livestock, happening upon a logging road, where they are vulnerable to poachers, or becoming habituated to human food, Schwartz says. Consider, too, that the average bear ranges over hundreds of square miles in its quest to find food before denning for the winter.

Perils within

As if the problems outside the park weren't serious enough, scientists point to new perils arising in the Yellowstone interior. Whitebark pine nuts - a high-nutrition food that many grizzlies seek out in the autumn before their winter slumber - declined in the park by 25 percent after the 1988 Yellowstone forest fires. The trees are also threatened by the emergence of an arboreal disease known as blister rust.

Another threat lurks under water: Exotic lake trout in Yellowstone Lake threaten the indigenous population of cutthroat trout that dozens of bears feast upon during the spring spawn.

Meanwhile, in the mountains of the Absaroka Range, there's a tenuous outlook for grizzlies drawn to feast on Army cutworm moths. The moths are a high-nutrition food and they lure the bears into the relative safety of the high country, miles from the nearest humans. But the insects are vulnerable to pesticide spraying in the valleys below, as well as to the loss to global warming of their own tundra food sources - wildflower nectar.

Then there's meat. Studies by Mattson and Charles Robbins at Washington State University show that Yellowstone grizzlies represent one of the most meat-dependent bear populations in North America. Carcasses of winter-killed bison and elk have been an important source of protein for grizzlies just emerging from their dens in the spring. But those carcasses could become fewer as the government reduces and tightly regulates park bison and free-ranging elk herds to reduce the possibility of wildlife spreading the disease known as brucellosis to domestic cattle outside the park.

Combined, pine nuts, trout, moths, and ungulate meat account for 80 to 90 percent of the grizzly's energy needs in the ecosystem, Mattson estimates.

In a Journal of Wildlife Management article in 1992, Mattson wrote that in years when the crop of whitebark pine nuts alone has been low, the number of bear fatalities has spiked. Poor natural food years could provide a plausible explanation why so many bears are seen looking for food beyond Yellowstone, he says. For Mattson, the key to a healthy bear population is providing high-quality habitat. Assessing bear numbers at a fixed point in time can lead to sweeping conclusions that turn out to be dead wrong.

"Really, it doesn't take long to kill 500 bears or even 2,000," he says. "If the long-term trajectory is negative, based on declining habitat and lethal confrontations with humans, the population is going to go extinct. The most dramatic proof is that we eradicated almost 100,000 grizzly bears in the Western U.S. between 1850 and 1920."

Mark Boyce, a biologist who has been hired by the interagency committee to figure out the trajectory of the Yellowstone grizzly population, says the grizzly may have saturated the existing habitat in the federal recovery zone, which includes the national parks and some forest lands immediately surrounding them.

"It seems unlikely that there is a lot of opportunity for expansion," says Boyce. "We may be pretty well maxxed out."

In essence, that means grizzlies are confined to the arbitrary box that is the recovery zone, even though most scientists say a viable bear population is contingent upon their being allowed to roam outside the box, says Doug Honnold, a senior attorney with EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund. "The original recovery zone was insufficient when it was circumscribed two decades ago," he says, "and it is insufficient now to accommodate an expanding bear population."

The IGBC, however, has turned down conservationists' requests to expand the recovery zone. At a meeting in Jackson, Wyo., last month, Targhee National Forest Supervisor Jerry Reese described bears outside the recovery zone as "bonus babies."

Conservationists dispute that characterization. "In Brent Creek in the Dunoir Valley (in the southeastern part of the Yellowstone ecosystem), there are 15 collared bears that are not in the recovery zone," Caroline Byrd of the Wyoming Outdoor Council told the Jackson Hole News. "This year there were five oil and gas leases offered in that area on the Shoshone. There is no way this won't affect bear recovery."

The threat of intolerance

Honnold says some of the best bear habitat actually lies outside the recovery zone, in areas where cattle graze on Forest Service lands. But bears are not tolerated near cattle, he says. As an example, he notes that in 1996 Wyoming wildlife officials killed a grizzly that had been preying on cattle inside Grand Teton National Park.

In contrast to the 1960s and early 1970s, today 95 percent of all grizzly deaths occur on Forest Service and private land outside the park, with most of the deaths caused by hunters. Last autumn, for instance, in the Teton Wilderness northeast of Jackson Hole, a party of elk hunters opened fire on a mother bear and her three cubs, killing the four in one fell swoop. The hunters claimed the bears charged them. Biologists and seasoned wildlife law enforcement specialists don't believe it.

Those bears were among seven killed in a single week on national forests. Although the bear committee's "official" estimate for grizzly deaths in 1997 is eight bears, a government expert says privately that as many as 20 bears may have died (not including grizzlies that were poached), yielding one of the highest number of bear fatalities in over a decade. Responding to those killings, the Forest Service and Wyoming game officials instituted a novel education program for hunters, emphasizing the use of pepper spray, instead of bullets, when bears turn aggressive.

Education, while important, is not enough, responds Louisa Willcox, director of the Sierra Club's Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Protection Project. Giving grizzlies a safe haven - where they can find plenty of natural food and avoid lethal contacts with humans "is what's really needed, she says.

"We already know what the future of the bear looks like in the absence of strict habitat protection," argues Willcox. "All we have to do is look to the Sierra Nevada and the San Juans of southern Colorado, where there are no bears. Without sustained vigilance to preserve habitat and reduce conflicts, the Yellowstone grizzly is fated to become a footnote in history."

A few conservationists are more optimistic. "I definitely see the glass as being more than half-full," says Hank Fischer, the Northern Rockies representative of Defenders of Wildlife. "The Yellowstone grizzly is a great example of the results you can get with a concerted, coordinated effort. Yes, I have some concerns about habitat and food sources for the grizzly, but we can't run the Endangered Species Act based on some fear of what will happen in the distant future."

Together with Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation, Fischer is the architect of a controversial plan to restore grizzlies to the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem (see story page 13). Environmental critics say that France and Fischer have a keen interest in Yellowstone delisting because it could allow them to trap "excess' Yellowstone grizzlies to bring to Idaho. It's a charge they both deny.

"We'd rather get bears from British Columbia," says Fischer. "But bears could be taken from Yellowstone whether or not they are delisted. We know there are bears in habitat outside the recovery zone, where their chances of survival are not good."

Fischer says he has yet to take a position on delisting, though he's leaning in that direction. But his organization may not back him. When word leaked earlier this year that Defenders of Wildlife might endorse the Fish and Wildlife Service's position on delisting, two prominent conservation biologists who sit on Defenders' scientific advisory council - Michael Soulé and Reed Noss - threatened to resign.

A hang-up over habitat

The battle over habitat spilled into the courts in 1995, when the Fund for Animals and the National Audubon Society sued the government over its updated grizzly recovery plan, authored by Servheen.

Federal Judge Paul Friedman ordered a rewrite of the plan. He noted that while numerical standards for determining a recovered bear population existed, no standards existed for measuring the landscape conditions needed to sustain bears over time, an original intent of the Endangered Species Act. Friedman also called the methodology used to monitor the size of the population "arbitrary and capricious."

"Judge Friedman noted that when the grizzly was listed as threatened, one primary reason was loss of habitat, and he essentially asked the Fish and Wildlife Service how they could have something that parades as a recovery plan without identifying how much habitat a viable population of bears needs or what condition it needs to be in," said EarthJustice attorney Honnold, who helped litigate the case.

"Somewhere along the line, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to bite the bullet and say, "This is what we need for bears," not, "How can we offend the least amount of politicians and wise-use groups?" "

In a negotiated settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to incorporate a habitat conservation strategy into a new recovery plan, expected by the end of the year. As for critics of the plan, they vow to sue again if the new version remains weak.

According to Servheen, the retooled recovery plan will include strong directives to state and federal agencies on how to protect habitat, including enforceable road standards for public lands. The plan will also establish target numbers of bears that each state must meet, he adds.

"Under the Endangered Species Act we can't delist until we have ensured an adequate regulatory plan in place and all the agency heads sign on to it. That's what this new conservation strategy will be," he says. "I believe the program we would have in place after delisting is stronger than what we have now."

And then there's politics

That contradicts expectations of Wyoming politicians that delisting will make life easier for industries wanting to use public lands in grizzly habitat. Conservationists say political pressure has tainted the bear committee's better scientific judgment. They point to a pair of letters sent earlier this year by Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, R., to Jamie Rappaport Clark, the Fish and Wildlife Service's national director.

"Further delay in delisting the grizzly only serves to strengthen the fears of folks who believe the Fish and Wildlife Service never intended to remove these animals from the endangered list once they had received this classification," he wrote. "By any reasonable measure, the grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone have reached the goals established under the recovery plan and the delisting process should begin."

Pressure from all sides has begun to squeeze members of the IGBC, with conflict reportedly breaking out among different agencies. Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Dave Garber has fiercely resisted attempts to hold individual forests accountable for protecting bear habitat. Garber wants requirements to be "voluntary" rather than forcing the Forest Service to legally commit itself to safeguarding roadless areas and limiting resource development.

The Forest Service has a reputation for defying grizzly bear habitat-protection requirements in greater Yellowstone. The best, or worst, example is the Targhee National Forest, which over the past three decades has allowed timber cuts - some of them visible from satellites in space - to fragment lands supposedly managed for bears.

Chuck Lobdell, who recently retired as a senior manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Idaho, became so frustrated by the lack of enforcement that he threatened to sue employees on the Targhee for not only logging but also refusing to close logging roads after the fact. He blames Servheen for failing to act forcefully as the citizens' designated bear advocate.

Similar habitat erosion is evident elsewhere. Both the Gallatin and Shoshone forests regularly built more roads in grizzly habitat than recommended by the bear committee. "I think (the IGBC) is a disaster because we've compromised our way out of recovery," Lobdell told the Casper Star-Tribune.

Even some supporters of delisting agree there is a problem. "There is a high level of frustration with the Forest Service," admits Ted Chu, who represents the Idaho Fish and Game Department on the IGBC's Yellowstone subcommittee. "We are reaching the point where, if the Forest Service refuses to accept its responsibility in protecting bear habitat, we might as well scrap the idea of delisting and go home."

Life in a delisted world

If the federal government delists the grizzly, will the states be capable of managing the animals? Even though conservationists distrust the federal government's ability to protect grizzly habitat, most say they fear the states even more.

In a Sept. 14 letter to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Clark, the leaders of 16 national and regional environmental groups wrote: "We are concerned that Wyoming, Idaho and Montana ... do not have the legal authority to manage habitat, and cannot force unwilling federal agencies, such as the Forest Service, to do so ... (The states) have no track record of successful coordination between states to protect habitat for species (even elk) which roam across the three states. And these states have a long tradition of influence by timber/energy/agriculture industries, creating a climate that is likely to lead to the destruction of important habitat."

Conservationists say they don't want to lose the oversight provided by the Endangered Species Act for close monitoring of federal land decisions. Section 7 of the law, for instance, requires that all projects affecting the grizzly, from timber sales to new ski resorts, must go through a consultation with federal biologists to assess their impact. That step would vanish with a delisting.

The Forest Service's Jay Gore, who coordinates grizzly bear management for the agency, acknowledges that the states haven't always shown great tolerance for the grizzly.

"Quite frankly (in the past), Wyoming and Montana were killing the shit out of bears without knowing how many were dying and how many were replacing them."

But Gore says that will not happen again. "I'm a Pollyanna kind of guy. I have confidence in the state agencies. And if they are not (up to the task), the rest of us will be there to make sure they don't screw it up."

Pamela Lichtman of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance doesn't buy it. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department already complains about the $600,000 to $800,000 a year it spends to manage bears, she says, yet after the grizzly is delisted, Wyoming will receive little or no federal assistance. Lichtman and others believe that Wyoming will underwrite grizzly management by sanctioning a sport hunt of "problem" bears that get into trouble with people.

Allegations that more bears will die under state management is a "red herring," counters Wyoming Game and Fish Director John Baughman, a fish biologist by training. Adds Dave Moody, who has shepherded the state's grizzly efforts for the past five years, "Our responsibility has grown significantly over the last 10 years to where we do all of the data collection and analysis on grizzlies and handle all nuisance bear problems outside the national parks.

"To be honest, nothing is going to change if we delist the bear," says Moody, "because we have been managing them all along."

Wyoming insists that the Forest Service commit to protecting habitat before the states assume responsibility, says Moody. "I can understand the conservation community's concerns about habitat degradation," he says. "Wyoming is looking for guarantees from the Forest Service and other agencies, because if they don't do a good job, we'll have to pick up the pieces by dealing with more nuisance bears."

Shifting the burden of proof

Should things go badly for the grizzly under state management, Servheen says the bear could regain federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. If a state fails to fund a viable grizzly monitoring and management program, he adds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will immediately review the bear's status. "And if Wyoming can't provide us with good information on how the bears are doing, we'll go to a listing."

But environmentalists say they know relisting would involve an uphill political battle, fought against the conservative congressional delegations in each state now pushing to delist.

"When you advocate radical change, and without a doubt delisting the grizzly is radical, you have to assume a certain burden of proof to show the action you propose will not have disastrous consequences," observes Bob Ekey, the Northern Rockies field director for The Wilderness Society. "Right now, the Fish and Wildlife Service has to bear that burden and their arguments just don't hold up under the weight."

If, after delisting, the bear population begins to fall from inept management, Ekey says it is conservationists who would have to prove there has been a downturn. "Plus, we would have to overcome the resistance put up by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the state of Wyoming and the IGBC to admit they made a mistake."

A greater nettle for critics is that without the Endangered Species Act, habitat loss may accelerate, leaving fewer options to fix problems. Pioneering Yellowstone bear biologist John Craighead, who founded the Craighead Wildlife-Wildlands Institute in Missoula, Mont., argues delisting "is the worst thing (the IGBC) could possibly do ... the only motivation to delist the bear is so it can be hunted and management of the public lands can go back to business as usual, which is why we came close to losing the bear in the first place."

Surprising, perhaps, is that Craighead's assertions are echoed now by Richard Knight, the former bear study team leader who carried out the raid on Dave Mattson's office five years ago. In an interview published in the journal Yellowstone Science after he retired in late 1997, Knight confessed: "I can imagine people out there with chainsaws and herds of sheep ready to move in when the bear population is delisted, and that scares me. Because I don't know how to protect bear habitat ... You can write some laws, but hell, we couldn't protect the Targhee from widespread clear-cutting and road building in grizzly habitat, even under the Endangered Species Act. You get an administrator who wants to get around a law, and he'll do it."

Servheen says what is needed is trust. "Some people think that many of us will blow off the grizzly once it's delisted, that we will go back to how we managed the bears before 1975. But those days are over," he insists. "The grizzly is one of the most visible animals in the United States in one of the most visible ecosystems in the United States. We'll never lose sight of it."

While the maneuvering continues, a few observers predict that, like a grizzly's charge, the bear committee's controversial plan to delist may ultimately be a bluff. "I don't think it will happen, at least not in my lifetime," reckons Yellowstone National Park's John Varley. "This thing is going to be tied up in the courts forever."

As for Dave Mattson, he continues to speak out about the threats to Yellowstone's bear, despite attempts by the bear committee to silence him. As late as the summer of 1998, members of the committee, including Servheen, asked the U.S. Geological Survey to take disciplinary action against him for talking to the press.

"We should be expanding the net of protection (for the grizzly), not pulling it in," Mattson says. "What victory will we achieve if we have grizzlies here in 50 years but doom them to extinction in 100 by our unsubstantiated optimism today? If you ask me, that's a false victory."

Todd Wilkinson lives in Bozeman, Mont. His recently published book, Science Under Siege: The Politicians' War on Nature and Truth (reviewed in this issue) includes the story of Dave Mattson and his struggle as a whistleblower. Paul Larmer contributed to this report.

The following sidebar articles accompany this feature story:

- Bare facts

- Idaho grizzly plan shifts into low gear


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