Averaging 800 pounds, powerful and fast moving, voracious defenders of their young, grizzly bears are a North American treasure deserving of our awe and worthy of preservation.
Native Americans held them sacred and embedded them in their legends, dances and paintings. Although they hunted them for food, clothing, and jewelry, they saw them as avatars of strength and courage conferring protection as the physical embodiment of spirit helpers. Wearing a bear claw necklace proffered security and good health.
At the turn of the twentieth century, an estimated 50,000 grizzlies roamed Alaska, Canada, and the American West. Unfortunately, by 1975, just 150 grizzlies remained in the lower U. S., most of them confined to the Greater Yellowstone Eco System.
Today, their numbers have increased to an estimated 1900 in the lower U. S. and their range by fifty percent, thanks to the Endangered Species Act. Some 150-200 grizzlies reside in Yellowstone National Park and another 500-600 within the Greater Yellowstone Eco System.
Yellowstone National Park attracts four million visitors annually, with tourists as eager to glimpse grizzlies as they do the Park’s thermal features.
Unfortunately, this great success story is now being used to justify revival of trophy hunting in Wyoming, sparked by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s announced plan (June 22, 2017) to remove the Greater Yellowstone grizzlies from the Endangered Species Act. Management of the bears would be handed-over to Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
Despite receiving some 500,000 protests, the Fish and Wildlife Service (USWF) is going ahead with its implementation, pending final determination by the courts.
Wyoming state wildlife officials are relishing this move and want to allow a twenty-four bear kill this fall, including 14-females.
Trophy hunters would be allowed to kill any bears that stray from Yellowstone National Park.
More than forty years have been invested in bringing back these noble creatures, indigenous to North America, from the brink of extinction. Killing a pregnant bear would obviously eliminate their cubs.
Some fear that bait may be used to make them easier prey.
Ironically, the Wyoming proposal would not allow them to be hunted within one quarter-mile of a highway.
Hunters would pay $600 per bear.
Conservationists fear that actual killing limits would be exceeded.
Doubtless, monetary-minded game officials in Idaho and Montana will want in on the “ harvesting.”
The USWF’s Matt Hogan, former lobbyist for the Safari Club International, the world’s largest trophy hunting organization, has been the leading delisting proponent. Meanwhile, Zinke has announced plans to reallow importing of elephant and lion trophies into the U. S.
Oil and gas interests may also have pressured the delisting, which would open up public lands, i.e, grizzly habitat, for drilling. Hogan was appointed to the task, apparently not disclosing his ties to Anadarko Petroleum and Gas.
Native Americans were never consulted, despite the pleas of many Congress members, including Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders. Consequently, 125 Canadian and American tribes have signed a treaty calling for continuing protection of grizzlies and all animals sacred to tribal communities.
We, of course, know what happened in North Dakota with Trump issuing two memoranda encouraging resumption of the Dakota Access Pipeline just days after taking office, despite vigorous Standing Rock Sioux protests.
As is, an estimated one-hundred grizzlies are killed annually as roadkill, or by confusion with black bears during the hunting season, or by disgruntled ranchers who view grizzlies as livestock predators, and by poachers.
All of this comes even as grizzlies face declining primary food sources such as white bark pine nuts and cutthroat trout, forcing them to seek new habitat and increasing their risk for conflict with humans.
Environment encroachment remains an ongoing challenge along with the long term impacting of climate change on food resources. As Erik Movar of the Western Watershed Projects points out, “The Yellowstone region is one of the last places where grizzly bear still occupies its natural place as the king of the mountains. But the livestock industry continues to push sheep and cattle deep into the mountains, causing conflicts with grizzly bears and other native wildlife in their natural habitats. Turning grizzly bear management over to trigger-happy state agencies without guarantees that the bears will be protected turns back the clock to the dark days when predator killing was the rule and grizzly bear populations were eliminated.”
We know too well that wherever the human footprint establishes itself, wildlife is diminished. Bears shouldn’t have to coexist with humans. It’s the other way around.