Gather round, children. Your humble outdoor scribe is once again trying to fulfill his duties by keeping you up to date on the outdoor world. Like me, you would probably rather hear about my latest failure at turkey hunting, or maybe some new shotgun I could tell you about. Life, however, is not all beer and skittles, so there are times when we need to buckle down and see what is going on in the great wide world (does anyone really know what a skittle is?).
Today’s sermon deals with grizzly bears, politics, philosophy and your status in the great wide world.
Not long ago I told you about how the government in British Columbia had unceremoniously banned sport hunting for grizzly bears. The province’s minister of forest lands was quoted as saying the grizzly hunt was not “in line with the values” of First Nations (a Native American group), other stockholders and the public. How much of the public that was actually polled about this is unclear. Natural Resources Minister Doug Donaldson was quoted as saying that while the grizzly bear hunt in British Columbia is sustainable and annually takes about 250 bears of an estimated population of 15,000, “public opinion on the practice has turned.” Now remember that part about public opinion class, as we will touch on that later. About one year after the government stopped the grizzly bear hunt in British Columbia a woman and her infant daughter were killed by a grizzly at a remote cabin in the Yukon.
When last we talked about this you may recall that a similar situation has hit home right here in the good ol’ US of A. Last fall a U. S. District judge in Wyoming ordered the grizzly bear to be placed back onto the endangered species list and under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Getting the grizzly delisted from federal protection in recent years has been no small feat for those who want to see a managed hunt for the bears around Yellowstone National Park.
(It should be noted that the scheduled hunt would not have been within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.)
After an animal is “delisted” — taken off of the endangered species list — this allows state Fish and Game agencies to manage the animals population and Wyoming Game and Fish Department had a hunt scheduled for last fall, a hunt that had been twice delayed by District Judge Dana Christensen. The grizzly bear had been on the Endangered Species list since 1975.
Game and Fish biologists estimate the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem area that was to be considered for the hunt at about 750, the quota hunt would have allowed for the taking of 23 bears. Advocates for the hunt say the 23 bears would not have adversely affected the bear population in question and would have allowed for the taking some of the problem bears in the area. Problems reported with grizzlies and hunters, hikers, and ranchers have been growing for several years.
In September 2018, one day after the proposed grizzly hunt was to have happened, a clash with two grizzlies and elk hunters in the Jackson Hole area of Wyoming resulted in the tragic death of a hunting guide, both state and federal attorneys had argued that the delisting and subsequent hunting season for grizzlies would allow for more safety for those living and visiting in grizzly country.
Just to be clear on what we are talking about here maybe we need a little sidebar on the grizzly. Scientists who study such things actually think of the name grizzly as a misnomer, and the bear we know as the grizzly is part of the North American Brown Bear family. The name grizzly is a holdover from when our boys Lewis and Clark were exploring the American west and dubbed the big brown bear, they had numerous bad experiences with as “grisly” as in this bear often inspired fear in their men. If you think about it dealing with a bear of the grizzly’s size and general demeanor when all you are carrying is a single shot, muzzleloading rife, I am sure that Lewis and Clark had some very lively encounters with these bears.
Remember these bears are not to be confused with the black bear which we seem to have a wealth of in many of our eastern states now. The black bear can be dangerous but in general is not considered on the same level as the grizzly. In short, grizzlys got most of the bad temper attributes in the bear clan and many times grizzly bear and human contact does not go well.
In the latest development from all of the fiasco with judge’s ruling which resulted in the grizzly being placed back on the Federal Endangered Species Act list, the Justice Department, representing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, (USFWS) has asked a federal appeals court to overturn some, but not all of the judge’s ruling that blocked the first grizzly bear hunts in the Lower 48 states in almost three decades.
In short, the US Attorneys said that it was wrong for the Federal Judge, Dana Christensen, to have required the USFWS to study what the effect of lifting the ban on hunting might have on the bear’s long term “genetic health”, and to require USFWS officials to determine if grizzlys would be endangered everywhere by simply hunting them in the Greater Yellowstone area. One of the concerns listed by the judge that was not contested was the issue of “whether enough safeguards are in place to keep the bears from sliding toward extinction if the state agencies take over management of the grizzly.”
My short take on this situation? The state fish and game people in Montana and Idaho said the bear population in the Greater Yellowstone area had more than reached the point to have a managed hunt, taking no more than 23 out of an estimated population of 750 (some say a lot more). Several groups that seem to be against hunting the grizzly in any form filed suit and last year the federal judge ruled against the USFWS and the grizzly was placed back on the Endangered Species list, making the managed hunt that the states were calling for impossible for the time being.
Boys and girls, on matters managing wildlife, when the government sides with so called public opinion over the wishes of those that we employ to manage bears and other wildlife, that is trained wildlife biologists, everybody loses. Hunters will lose, those that seek to hike the wilderness in grizzly country will lose, ranchers will lose, and in the end the bears will lose. It has been reported the fish and game agencies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem have already had to eradicate more problem bears than the managed hunt would have taken.
I am not sure if there is any real answer to all this. If a court finds for the USFWS in this most recent case, I am not sure if that will once again remove the grizzly from the Endangered Species list and thus allow the states to have the managed hunt. There will be more bear and human encounters until then, count on it. If you travel in bear country, my suggestion is you carry a firearm big enough to change a bears mind if he decides to ruin your day.