Don't believe that grizzlies are doing just fine

  Dear HCN,


Many of us who follow the Yellowstone grizzly summer after summer know one thing for certain about the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee: It is an intensely political organization (HCN, 11/9/98). Like a political party, most of its deliberations are in secret and many of its pronouncements are in the form of propaganda.


Propaganda is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as follows: "1. the systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause."


In this case, the doctrine is grizzly bear delisting (never mind that the bear is reduced to 2 percent of its original range in the contiguous 48 states) and the advocates are IGBC and Christopher Servheen.


Servheen's assertion that outfitters and hunters have cleaned up their act is incorrect, especially in the Teton Wilderness. In the summer of 1997 there were several incidents on the North Buffalo in the Teton Wilderness. Specifically, a "problem bear" appeared in Soda Fork Meadows, "terrorizing" people camped there. On inspection, I found that what we really had was a problem outfitter. The entirety of Soda Fork Meadows was a disgrace - garbage, food scraps, etc. There was much fresh bear sign, and I identified two separate sets of bear tracks, certainly an unfortunate situation. Two miles upriver, I found a similar situation at North Fork Meadows.


It must be said that these locations are four and six miles respectively from Turpin Meadows, one of the busiest trailheads in the Teton Wilderness. The extent of enforcement was the placement of a sign indicating that a bear was marauding through Soda Fork Meadows.


The situation in the Thorofare deserves mention as well. Since the film, A River Runs Through It (better titled A Realtor Runs Through It), fly fishing has exploded as a sport. Outfitting has increased exponentially in the Thorofare during this period. There is only one drainage in the entire Thorofare that is spared the frenzy of activity associated with these large-scale operations. Most of these camps are not in compliance with Special Management Area regulations, and food is often placed on the ground in army-surplus foot lockers rather than Bear Resistant Food Containers.


I have seen much bear sign at the margins of these camps and wonder often how many bear mortalities occur without being reported. Twelve-gauges and 44-magnums are still the deterrents of choice rather than pepper spray, and much education needs to be done.


Much of the fire activity in the Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1988 occurred in the Special Management Area, forcing grizzly bears to disperse. The rich whitebark pine-nut stands in the remote drainages of the front range attract more and more bears every year. Their proximity to moth sites and lack of human activity make them very attractive. I observed two sows with cubs of the year in one drainage this very summer. Yet I think dispersal is often interpreted as proof that the population is exploding, without the data to back up these claims.


I don't share Servheen's optimism about the Yellowstone grizzly and I see delisting as a political tool that allows federal agencies to claim a much-needed victory on endangered species while putting money in the pockets of outfitters once a grizzly hunt is resumed.





Lee Mercer


Boise, Idaho





A guidebook author, the writer has spent over 20 years walking the Yellowstone ecosystem.


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