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Take politics & emotion out of grizzly bear conservation

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

I’m not 100% sure the “western way of life” has a “new” threat due to recent legal decisions. But I will say the grizzly bear - human conflict is real, thus a complicated problem where both sides are using the grizzly bear as political fodder. Whether one side wants to expand fossil fuel and/or grazing rights or the other side would rather have the other side continue to provide support or the fact they just plain don’t like the side representing farmers and ranchers — bears are losing every day.

The Native American tribes who clamored to jump on board the spiritual bandwagon designation of grizzly bears and those comments about “100,000 grizzly bears” prior to European settlement in North America fail to acknowledge reality on the ground today. Making those types of comments to coach history isn’t smart.

“These bears have no fear of man nor respect for man in the field which has led to serious human-bear conflicts where both humans and bears are dying.”

I’ve could just as easily state native Americans (I guess you could say “native” even though DNA research points out these folks came across the Bering land bridge from Asia) continually raided other tribes to take squaws (wives), take captives (slaves), and steal horses. The white man, based on today’s norms, did a ton of terrible things too. But it’s a fact Native American tribes hunted grizzly bear. The bears competed for food, were a threat to families and eventually became a threat to livestock (after the establishment of horses brought over from Europe with Spanish conquistadors). The grizzlies hide (fur) also made a warm bed and his claws are even today found adorning Native American jewelry. In modern times, I even have suspicions anti hunting organizations, with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal annually, may be greasing a few wheels with native tribes or First Nations people in order the facilitate their political agendas.

European settlement pushed grizzlies into remote wilderness and national forest lands (mostly along the Rocky Mountain front (Alberta, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado). Today, grizzlies have filled (exceeded carrying capacity) the available habitat. Every aspect of the Endangered Species Act has been fulfilled for grizzlies. They are now moving out into areas where they haven’t been seen in over 100 years. These bears have no fear of man nor respect man in the field which had led to serious human-bear conflicts where both humans and bears are dying. Not only have hunter interactions gone bad, but also vacation hikers, horseback riders and even mountain bikers find themselves on the receiving end of sharp claws and vicious teeth. Almost always the grizzly bear loses (dies).

In addition, the US federal government (charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act) has not done much if anything to educate people who are living in historic bear habitat about how to live with grizzlies. Good luck with having a chicken coop or even compost without a hot wire strung up around your personal property.

“In fact, non-game and endangered species greatly benefit the money hunters pay for wildlife management. It also creates a definitive level of respect between bears and man.”

Well respected wildlife photographer and tribal member Tony Bynum told me, “The Feds dumped a bunch of bears on us and we haven’t had to live with them in over a 100 years. I think the federal government could be held liable.”

The fact is we will never have 100,000 grizzlies roaming the plains. Not unless you want to tear down fences, stop planting crops, rip up highways and railroads and bulldoze entire cities and their adjacent suburbs. Basically remove 90% of the human population. And don’t forget removing these ranches and farms from the overall food production system will equate to less food for humans in places where grizzlies never existed leading to higher prices or potential food shortages. The same analogy could be used for energy or other natural resources (renewable timber, grass or fisheries). How many folks in NY or CA don’t care to have their favorite food in the grocery or don’t care to have gas to drive to work or don’t need electricity to charge their iPhones so they can post on Facebook or instagram?

Where are the millions of folks living in cities along the Rocky Mountain Front in Colorado going to move? Do we abandon Yellowstone National Park and rip up the little towns around the park where folks have raised kids for four or five generations?

In the lower 48 (continental USA), we have to learn how to co-exist with the grizzly bear. Alaska has tens of thousands of grizzlies and a legal, well-regulated hunting season. The hunt creates serious revenue for local communities in geographically remote locations and pays for the bulk of wildlife conservation and management. In fact, non-game and endangered species greatly benefit the money hunters pay for wildlife management. It also creates a definitive level of respect between bears and man. When a wild bear takes a big whiff of human scent they usually go on the defensive and start looking for an escape route in order to limit their exposure to humans.

It’s a fact, no species of legally hunted game, which has been part of a well-regulated, science-based management plan, has ever gone extinct. The reality we’ve seen time and time again, are game populations expand in size and are found overall in great health. Game managers - scientists and biologists - have shown scientifically the off-take of 1-3% of a population has no effect on the population as a whole. These experts anticipate and factor in for natural death along with predation and even deaths by vehicles or trains.

And don’t forget bears (and all other living creatures) lead a renewable life — they breed and are wired to exceed the carrying capacity of the land (ecosystem) in order to survive.

Here’s a simple analogy of the true value grizzly bear will bring to wildlife conservation. If you have a rat in your house what do you do? You buy traps or poison or hire an exterminator to kill it.

What do you do if the rat is worth $50,000 USD?

You raise every rat you can, right?

Grizzly bears are worth more than $50,000 a piece.

Politics must be removed from wildlife conservation and management. The greatest friend the grizzly bear will find is the legal hunter. Hunting grizz creates real value for wildlife management and will give bears a reason to keep their distance from humans.

Somebody cares about grizzlies and will conserve and protect them forever—the hunter.

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