Grizzlies thriving in backcountryOne time in the 1990s I offered a bet during my frequent bantering with biologists, and it was this: “The grizzly bear will NOT be removed from The Endangered Species List during our tenure, and I’ll bet a prime rib dinner on that prediction.” The biologists, who were optimistic about delisting the grizzly bear, would not take up the offer.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
One time in the 1990s I offered a bet during my frequent bantering with biologists, and it was this: “The grizzly bear will NOT be removed from The Endangered Species List during our tenure, and I’ll bet a prime rib dinner on that prediction.” The biologists, who were optimistic about delisting the grizzly bear, would not take up the offer.
I would have won the bet, of course, and this was further exemplified last month when a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from turning over grizzly bear management to the states.
The judges based their ruling against the plan on the decline of whitebark pine trees — the nuts from which make up an important part of the diet of interior grizzly bears. However, the judges failed to consider that even with millions of acres of pine trees of several species falling victim to an epidemic of pine beetles during the last decade, grizzly bear numbers are higher in Montana and Wyoming than they have been in a century. Bears are omnivores, and they obviously have adapted to other food sources.
No one knows exactly how many grizzly bears are located in the Lower 48 states, but 1,200 is a number tossed around by biologists and some members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Team. The majority of Lower 48 grizzlies are found in western Montana and northwestern Wyoming, with a few reported in northern Idaho and in the Cascades of north central Washington State.
Every year in Montana and Wyoming there are a couple dozen grizzly bear deaths due to deliberate euthanasia of problem bears by state wildlife agencies, accident deaths caused by motor vehicles, mistaken identification ( hunters mistakenly shooting a grizzly bear they thought was a black bear), and self-defense encounters.
One would think that a limited hunting season of say, 15 or 20 special permits in each state, would be a reasonable solution to eliminating the problem bears and reducing the incredible boldness of unhunted grizzly bears.
That would make sense, but the fact is there are organizations which exist at least in part to prevent any legitimate hunting of grizzly bears. One of the most vociferous opponents of a hunt is the Natural Resources Defense Council. Another is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Their steadfast opposition to grizzly bear hunting is proof that politics triumphs over science when the Endangered Species Act is involved, and now the 9th Circuit has backed them with its decision.
Montana’s governor and other state officials in this state were largely silent on the ruling, but it caused an uproar in Wyoming, with Gov. Matt Mead and the Attorney General’s office coming out against the court’s decision. Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who has worked on wildlife issues for years, said his constituents are complaining about increasing conflicts with bears, which have killed four people in Wyoming and two in Montana in the last two years.
He is quoted in an Associated Press article: “There’s going to be a child killed one of these days, and then possibly the judges out there in the 9th Circuit will realize we’ve got a problem out here.”
Like most hunters, I like having grizzly bears thriving in the backcountry. I have hunted grizzlies in British Columbia and Alaska, and have no interest myself in hunting them again. However, with bears expanding into areas where they haven’t been seen in more than a century, it is time for a limited hunting season.
Just don’t expect to see one anytime soon.