Biologists to Yellowstone: Feed the grizzlies


YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - Feeding the grizzly bears here may not be such a bad idea; in fact, it may be the only way to ensure their survival into the next century, according to a new book, The Grizzly Bears of Yellowstone: Their Ecology in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, 1959-1992.

A trio of biologists sees a bleak future for Yellowstone grizzlies: They need more space outside the park and less human interference, but the trend is toward less space and more people.

Setting up strictly regulated feeding areas or "ecocenters' inside the park can keep the bears safe in the rear areas while combatants duke it out on the front lines, say the writers, John J. Craighead, Jay S. Sumner and John A. Mitchell.

Not everyone embraces this notion. The idea of feeding grizzlies fell flat with government bear managers, who have been doing all they can to wean the bruins from human-related food since the park's last dump was closed in 1970.

Bears fed at those dumps by the score and were a big tourist attraction for decades. But the bears were dependent on garbage and when the dumps closed, grizzly numbers collapsed. The Craighead team argues they have never recovered.

John Varley, the park's top researcher, maintains the bears have proven their resilience by relying on foods such as pine nuts and moths.

"There are natural ecocenters here now and there's no need for Purina bear chow," Varley says.

Keith Aune, a veteran bear researcher for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, calls artificial bear-feeding "a step backward."

"The bottom line is, he (Craighead) is living in another decade," Aune said.

The Craighead team predicted government bear managers would ignore their work. They blast the managers for their "inability to accept and make changes not on the official agenda."

Meanwhile, some bear activists are hoping the debate will be rendered moot in the wake of a recent court decision that found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly recovery plan inadequate.

Although the Fish and Wildlife agency has indicated it may appeal, environmental groups that brought the suit are hoping the agency will instead devote its energy to working on a realistic recovery plan.

"I don't see a need for temporary feeding stations for bears if the Fish and Wildlife Service gets busy and writes a plan that does what needs to be done for bears," said Tim Stevens of the Bozeman, Mont.-based Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Scott McMillion writes in Bozeman, Montana.

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