RE­TURN OF THE GRIZ­ZLY

THE SCI­ENCE BE­HIND THE HUNT—AND WHAT’S AT RISK

Outdoor Life - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL R. SHEA

Bond Isaac­son, a 30-year-old hunter from North Car­olina, loaded quar­ters from his first elk onto a pack­horse with the help of his guide. The horse spooked. When Isaac­son looked up, a big sow griz­zly stood less than 20 yards away. “Hey, bear!” the guide yelled, fran­ti­cally wav­ing his arms. “Git bear! Git!” Isaac­son’s hunt­ing part­ner waved and hollered too. The griz­zly popped its jaws and stepped to­ward them. The guide had no sidearm. The sec­ond hunter’s ri­fle was 10 yards away, lean­ing against a stump. The bear cir­cled down­wind. Now the three men stood be­tween the griz­zly and the elk car­cass. Isaac­son drew his .300 Win. Mag. from a scab­bard on the pack­horse. With a shaky voice he asked, “What should I do?” “Give it a warn­ing shot,” the guide said, and Isaac­son put a round in the dirt a few inches from the griz­zly’s front claws. Then the bear charged. “Shoot it!” the guide yelled. “Shoot it!” The sec­ond shot top­pled the griz­zly midrun. She dropped 8 yards from the three men—and one freaked-out horse. Mike Dem­ing, ed­i­tor of Sports­man’s News and a fam­ily friend of Isaac­son’s, had helped plan the hunt and was with Isaac­son in camp. He wasn’t there dur­ing the at­tack, and he was cu­ri­ous to see the scene for him­self. So the next day, Dem­ing hiked a ridge­line to glass the area around Isaac­son’s kill. He spot­ted a big boar griz­zly feed­ing on the elk car­cass and three smaller bears wait­ing their turn. The Isaac­son/dem­ing party saw more than a dozen griz­zlies on their seven-day elk hunt. They camped on the fringe of Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park, af­ter a 19-hour horse­back ride into the back­coun­try, near where the Teton and Washakie Wilder­ness ar­eas meet. A mother and two cubs were run from camp nightly with 12-gauge flash­bang rounds. A fourth bear wan­dered into a hunter’s tent. Dem­ing has hunted and killed three brown bears in Alaska and Canada, and more than 30 black bears through­out a life­time hunt­ing the West. He’s not the kind of guy who spooks eas­ily. “But hunt­ing near Yel­low­stone scares the liv­ing crap out of me,” he says. “Bears are ev­ery­where.” The griz­zly Isaac­son shot was the 33rd recorded bear death in the Greater Yel­low­stone Ecosys­tem in 2017. By the end of the year, 56 griz­zlies made the list.

THE COME­BACK

Forty years ago, you’d have been hard­pressed to see a Yel­low­stone griz­zly any­where but the park dump. Thanks to a litany of changes made by lo­cals and state and fed­eral wildlife man­agers, and the strict pro­tec­tions af­forded un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act, the re­turn of the Yel­low­stone griz­zly is one of the great Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tion suc­cess sto­ries. Much of the fund­ing for such a large-scale re­cov­ery ef­fort was paid for by hunters. Wy­oming has con­trib­uted more than $50 mil­lion, more than any other sin­gle state or agency, to the griz­zly con­ser­va­tion ef­fort. That money comes al­most ex­clu­sively from Pittman­robert­son funds, which are raised from an ex­cise tax on am­mu­ni­tion, firearms, and archery equip­ment. Last sum­mer, Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Ryan Zinke delisted the Yel­low­stone bears, ef­fec­tively turn­ing their man­age­ment over to the states. Shortly there­after, Idaho, Mon­tana, and Wy­oming an­nounced their in­ten­tion to ex­plore hunt­ing sea­sons for griz­zlies. Mon­tana de­cided against it for 2018. At press time, Idaho plans to of­fer a sin­gle griz­zly tag, and Wy­oming—which gets the boar’s share of tags be­cause most of the Yel­low­stone bears live within its bor­ders—is mov­ing full steam ahead. As many as 24 tags could be is­sued for a four- to six-week sea­son start­ing this Septem­ber. Many con­sider a well­reg­u­lated hunt to be proof of suc­cess for the En­dan­gered Species Act and the North Amer­i­can Model of Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion—the man­age­ment phi­los­o­phy that states de­ci­sions should be based on sci­ence, that wildlife is held in the pub­lic trust, and that hunt­ing is an im­por­tant tool for con­ser­va­tion.

DEEP IN THE TETON WILDER­NESS, NEAR THE SOUTH­EAST COR­NER OF YEL­LOW­STONE NA­TIONAL PARK,

But there is also huge risk that comes with the pro­posed hunt. In this age of so­cial me­dia, where video from the back­coun­try can be shared with mil­lions, the wrong type of footage could po­ten­tially sway pub­lic opin­ion against griz­zly hunt­ing, and even big-game hunt­ing in gen­eral. Yet the best wildlife sci­ence on bears sup­ports a highly reg­u­lated hunt­ing sea­son for Yel­low­stone-area griz­zlies—as does the ex­pe­ri­ence of hunters like Isaac­son, Dem­ing, and the lo­cals of north­west Wy­oming, who over­whelm­ingly sup­port a hunt. To un­der­stand how killing griz­zlies in a reg­u­lated hunt might ac­tu­ally help them, you have to wrap your head around the com­plex cal­cu­lus of known bear mor­tal­ity, or the sci­ence of griz­zly deaths. Frank van Ma­nen, su­per­vi­sory re­search bi­ol­o­gist with the In­ter­a­gency Griz­zly Bear Study Team, United States Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, leads a group formed by the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior in 1973 (the same year the En­dan­gered Species Act was passed) that mon­i­tors and stud­ies Yel­low­stone griz­zlies. Team mem­bers are sci­en­tists who rep­re­sent the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, U.S. For­est Ser­vice, Eastern Shoshone and North­ern Ara­paho tribes, and the states of Idaho, Mon­tana, and Wy­oming. The best bear habi­tat in and around Yel­low­stone has been dubbed the De­mo­graphic Mon­i­tor­ing Area, or DMA. It’s a vast land­scape of 25,000 square miles (about the size of Ver­mont, New Hamp­shire, and Mas­sachusetts com­bined). Based on a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing be­tween the states and the feds, bear num­bers can be con­trolled by state­m­an­aged hunt­ing pro­grams to main­tain a long-term av­er­age pop­u­la­tion of 674 griz­zlies. That num­ber isn’t ar­bi­trary. It is how many bears can thrive in the Greater Yel­low­stone Ecosys­tem. “This is the best bear habi­tat in the re­gion,” van Ma­nen says, “and it’s 94 per­cent oc­cu­pied.” In fact, it’s been that way since the mid-2000s, when the pop­u­la­tion sta­bi­lized at about 700. The area is so sat­u­rated that griz­zlies have ex­panded their range—tripling it in the last 20 years—and are now com­ing into reg­u­lar con­tact with ranch­ers, hik­ers, home­own­ers, and hunters. Last year, Wy­oming Game and Fish cap­tured 31 griz­zly bears in con­flict sit­u­a­tions, and 11 of those bears were de­stroyed by the state. Four peo­ple were in­jured in bear en­coun­ters. In the past 10 years, there have been 29 griz­zly-re­lated in­juries and five hu­man deaths in Wy­oming, plus one death in Mon­tana. Brian Nesvik, chief game war­den of Wy­oming Game and Fish and the pub­lic face of the state’s griz­zly man­age­ment plan, draws a di­rect line be­tween there be­ing more bears and the in­crease in hu­man-griz­zly con­flicts. “A re­al­ity of re­cov­ery is more bears in the ecosys­tem, which means ex­pan­sion into new ar­eas and in­creased con­tact with peo­ple,” he says. “Some years are worse than oth­ers, based on weather con­di­tions, avail­able food sources, and travel pat­terns. But over time, as the pop­u­la­tion has in­creased, the num­ber of con­flicts with

hu­mans has in­creased. From 1985 to 2010, there were no mor­tal­i­ties of hu­mans by griz­zlies. Since 2010, there have been six. The change is there are more bears.” Van Ma­nen’s team has also doc­u­mented a de­cline in sur­vival rates of cub and year­ling bears since the early 2000s. As the habi­tat fills up with griz­zlies, young bears are more likely to be killed by older boars over ter­ri­tory and easy food, like Isaac­son’s elk car­cass. This is trou­bling be­cause griz­zlies have the sec­ond-slow­est re­pro­duc­tion rate of any mam­mal in North Amer­ica. Cubs will stay with their mother for 2 ½ to 3 ½ years, dur­ing which time mama won’t mate. A spike in cub and year­ling fe­male deaths could be cat­a­strophic for the over­all bear pop­u­la­tion. Hunt­ing old boars could ease the ter­ri­to­rial pres­sure on young sows. Bi­ol­o­gists and man­agers with the state of Wy­oming have con­sid­ered all this and come up with a hunt plan that is—with­out ques­tion—the most highly reg­u­lated pub­lic hunt­ing pro­gram ever de­vised in North Amer­ica. And the reg­u­la­tions need to be tight, be­cause the world will be watch­ing.

CE­CIL EF­FECT

Three years ago, Ce­cil the Lion gar­nered worldwide at­ten­tion af­ter a Min­nesota den­tist killed the 13-year-old cat out­side Hwange Na­tional Park in Zim­babwe. The well-known lion was a fa­vorite of photo tourists and an­i­mal-rights fundrais­ers. To try and quell the pub­lic firestorm, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion halted all lion tro­phy im­ports to the United States, ef­fec­tively shut­ting out 75 per­cent of Africa’s lion hunters and the dol­lars they bring to big-cat con­ser­va­tion pro­grams across the con­ti­nent. A year later, an Ohio hunter killed a bear with a spear on cam­era in Al­berta, Canada. The footage went viral for all the wrong rea­sons. Al­berta moved quickly to ban spear hunt­ing out­right. Last year, Bri­tish Columbia shut down its griz­zly hunt af­ter a pro­tracted de­bate was kicked off by an­ti­hunt­ing ad­vo­cates who shared a par­tic­u­larly bloody video on Face­book. The video (which was not con­firmed to have been taken in Bri­tish Columbia) shows a griz­zly be­ing shot sev­eral times and slid­ing down a moun­tain­side, leav­ing long red streaks in the snow. Bri­tish Columbia has about 15,000 griz­zlies, or 25 per­cent of all griz­zlies in North Amer­ica—a pop­u­la­tion that’s healthy by any sci­en­tific mea­sure. Shut­ting down the hunt had noth­ing to do with wildlife sci­ence, as govern­ment of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted. It was po­lit­i­cal: an an­ti­hunt­ing move­ment launched with the help of a gory video. “It is no longer so­cially ac­cept­able to the vast ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish Columbians to hunt griz­zly bears,” a pro­vin­cial of­fi­cial told the press. As Out­door Life con­trib­u­tor Ben Long wrote at the time: “A decade ago, the killing of a griz­zly bear would have had one or two wit­nesses: a hunter and per­haps a guide or com­pan­ion. To­day, killing a griz­zly bear can be seen by mil­lions of view­ers on so­cial me­dia who won’t know the con­text of the hunt or the game-man­age­ment rea­son­ing be­hind it.” The spot­light will be even brighter around Yel­low­stone, where in­ter­na­tional tourists are bused in ev­ery sum­mer by the tens of thou­sands. Bears are named, and tran­quil pho­to­graphs of sows with cubs fill up post­card racks. “We as hunters need to un­der­stand this is a highly con­tro­ver­sial ac­tiv­ity,” says Randy New­berg, a Mon­tana hunter, tele­vi­sion host, and out­spo­ken pub­lic-land ad­vo­cate with a long his­tory of cov­er­ing bear is­sues. “There’s go­ing to be a lot of pub­lic scru­tiny of this hunt, and if we screw it up, if bears are relisted, we’ll never get an­other chance.” For en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, griz­zlies are big busi­ness, New­berg says. Groups like the Sierra Club, the Cen­ter of Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, and Earth

Jus­tice, which have all filed law­suits to relist bears, raise big dol­lars from their sup­port­ers when charis­matic crit­ters, like a mama griz­zly and her cubs, are fea­tured in fundrais­ing pam­phlets. If hunt­ing is le­gal­ized around Yel­low­stone and some­thing goes wrong, what­ever the cause, hunters will be the first to be blamed, New­berg says. “If any­one thinks what hap­pened in Bri­tish Columbia can’t hap­pen here, pull your head out to where the air is fresh,” he says. He’d like to see griz­zly hunt­ing cor­doned off to the most re­mote, back­coun­try lo­ca­tions pos­si­ble, away from the long lenses of photo tourists, as well as a high ap­pli­ca­tion fee for tags, and pos­si­bly an early-spring sea­son so older boars, which emerge from dens first, can be tar­geted specif­i­cally. “It’s tempt­ing to just flip an­tis the bird and say, ‘Too bad, it’s le­gal.’ But con­trary to what we might like, hunters aren’t go­ing to de­cide the fu­ture here. The court of pub­lic opin­ion will.”

WY­OMING’S GRIZ­ZLY HUNT

In de­sign­ing their hunt, Wy­oming of­fi­cials have con­sid­ered the sci­ence and so­cial im­pli­ca­tions should some­thing go wrong—like a fa­mous bear get­ting killed. To sus­tain an op­ti­mal bear pop­u­la­tion on the habi­tat avail­able in­side the DMA, the al­low­able an­nual

mor­tal­ity is 9 per­cent for sows and 20 per­cent for boars. That trans­lates to hunt­ing tags only when the pre­vi­ous year’s to­tal bear pop­u­la­tion, and the es­ti­mated bear deaths, are fac­tored into the equa­tion. This stat in­cludes any mor­tal­i­ties, such as bears killed in ve­hi­cle col­li­sions, fights with other bears, self-de­fense kills by hunters, and prob­lem bears killed by of­fi­cers. So, to cal­cu­late the 2018 griz­zly sea­son tags, bi­ol­o­gists first looked at the to­tal num­ber of bears in the ecosys­tem in 2017: 718. In or­der to main­tain healthy pop­u­la­tion lev­els, 50 adult males and 22 adult fe­males could die from any cause. That same year, re­searchers doc­u­mented and es­ti­mated that 33 male bears, 20 fe­males, and 12 de­pen­dent cubs or year­lings died. This left a to­tal of 19 pos­si­ble bears in Mon­tana, Idaho, and Wy­oming to be killed dur­ing a 2018 hunt­ing sea­son. Be­cause 58 per­cent of the Yel­low­stone bears live in Wy­oming, the Cow­boy State will re­ceive 58 per­cent of the tags, or 12 to­tal—10 boar tags and two sow tags. Only two tags will be re­leased at a time in the six units that make up the DMA, to en­sure no more than two sows are ever killed by hunters. Sows with cubs are off-lim­its, and no traps, dogs, or bait are al­lowed. Hunters who draw will be re­quired to take a griz­zly ed­u­ca­tion class and carry a satel­lite mes­sen­ger to re­port their kill and the bear’s sex as soon as it hap­pens. Af­ter the kills are ver­i­fied by Game and Fish, two more li­censes will be is­sued, so long as two sows have not been killed. Once the two-sow limit is reached, the hunt will be closed re­gard­less of how many boar tags are still avail­able. No hunt­ing will be al­lowed within a quar­ter mile of U.S. high­ways in the mon­i­tor­ing area, in­clud­ing roads ap­proach­ing Yel­low­stone and Grand Teton Na­tional Park, where bear view­ing draws big crowds. Ar­eas that bor­der Grand Teton are also off-lim­its, to pre­vent hunters from killing a bear that’s well-known to tourists. Out­side the DMA, the state is free to set up hunt­ing reg­u­la­tions in­de­pen­dent of fed­eral over­sight. In these ar­eas, Wy­oming plans to is­sue an ad­di­tional 12 tags, which they hope will act as a fire­wall to pre­vent griz­zlies from trav­el­ing far­ther east and south—and into more con­flicts with peo­ple. Here, the reg­u­la­tions are much more re­laxed. This area in­cludes the foothills, prairie, and edges of towns like Cody and Lan­der. Bears here are not mon­i­tored by the In­ter­a­gency Study Team, and there’s no good count on how many griz­zlies eke out a life away from the prime habi­tat of the DMA. Wy­oming of­fi­cials hope the bulk of these tags will be punched on prob­lem bears close to town. Bait­ing would be al­lowed in these zones at the dis­cre­tion of Game and Fish, Nesvik says, and would only be per­mit­ted to at­tract a known prob­lem bear. Just south­west of Cody, along Route 291, rancher Tom Bales lives with these bears. Up and down this road—from town all the way to Buf­falo Bill Reser­voir 20 miles away—sub­di­vi­sions have sprouted up over the last few years. This hu­man ex­pan­sion doesn’t ap­pear to be slow­ing down ei­ther. Rid­ing high on en­ergy and tourism, Cody is among the fastest-grow­ing towns in the state. The county re­cently put up a $28,000 elec­tric fence around the dump. Bales has about 500 acres of ir­ri­gated ground, and he now reg­u­larly gets trail cam­era pho­tos of bears in his corn. Be­tween his pic­tures, and those taken with his neigh­bor’s cam­eras, he thinks four or five dif­fer­ent griz­zlies fre­quented one 40-acre corn­field last year. The year be­fore, they doc­u­mented 16 griz­zlies, in­clud­ing nine bears spot­ted in a field at one time. “We prob­a­bly lose three to five acres a year to bears,” Bales says. On Carter Moun­tain, in the Ab­saroka Front, Bales runs a few hun­dred head in a cow-calf op­er­a­tion with his brother. Two or three times a week the broth­ers ride their al­lot­ment, look­ing for car­casses. Bears, Bales has found, tend to turn a calf in­side out— the hide peeled off and piled up like a deer skin on a butcher’s floor. He takes the car­casses to Game and Fish, which de­ter­mines if it was the work of wolves or bears. Griz­zly kills are re­im­bursed 3.5 to 1 (for ev­ery con­firmed bear kill, a rancher is re­im­bursed for 3.5 miss­ing cows). Last year they had 19 con­firmed kills, and an­other 30 or 40 head went miss­ing. “So many peo­ple think the farm­ers and ranch­ers are against the bears,” Bales says. “We’re not. Bears have their place. We have to learn to live with them. What both­ers me is they don’t have a good way to es­ti­mate the pop­u­la­tion. Some­thing needs to be done.” Game war­den Nesvik says the an­swer is hunters. “Our goal is to have hunters deal with all our prob­lem bears. We be­lieve it’s bet­ter for hunters to man­age bears than us as a govern­ment agency,” he says. “The North Amer­i­can Model of Wildlife Man­age­ment, which has been suc­cess­ful for more than 80 years, in­cludes hunt­ing. When there’s bi­o­log­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and pub­lic sup­port, the state needs hunters.” But Nesvik and the state of Wy­oming don’t get the last word here. The de­ci­sion on whether griz­zly hunt­ing will be al­lowed rests with a fed­eral court in Mon­tana.

BEAR OF A COURT CASE

Some ac­tivists who op­pose a hunt have coun­tered that the ge­netic health of the Yel­low­stone bears—all off­spring of those few lucky bears that sur­vived the 1970s—is rea­son enough to leave them alone. There are six “is­lands” of re­cov­er­ing bear pop­u­la­tions in the Lower 48, and they need to con­nect to each other to en­sure the long-term ge­netic health of the species, or so the ar­gu­ment goes. But that sci­ence doesn’t stand up, says van Ma­nen. Other than the Yel­low­stone bear pop­u­la­tion, the U.S. bear sub­groups con­nect to much larger pop­u­la­tions in Canada. The Yel­low­stone bears have enough ge­netic vari­a­tion among them to be sus­tain­able long-term, he says. Even still, with or with­out hunt­ing, bears in the North Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide and the Yel­low­stone griz­zlies are po­si­tioned to con­nect in the next 10 years, he says. Less than 70 miles sep­a­rate them now. “From a bi­ol­o­gist’s per­spec­tive, the pro­posed hunt isn’t a threat to griz­zlies,” van Ma­nen says. “In a way, it’s sad that hunt­ing gets so much at­ten­tion,

as larger is­sues of land use—land­scape level changes be­tween Yel­low­stone and the North Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide pop­u­la­tion—could af­fect them. [And that] gets lost in the de­bate.” Back in 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice sub­mit­ted a for­mal rule to delist griz­zlies but was sued by en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, which con­tended that the govern­ment sci­en­tists did not con­sider the ef­fects of cli­mate change on an im­por­tant griz­zly food source. The In­ter­a­gency Griz­zly Bear Study Team in­ves­ti­gated the is­sue and found it wasn’t a threat. In 2016, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed delist­ing the Yel­low­stone griz­zlies yet again, but af­ter a tor­rent of 650,000 pub­lic com­ments, any ac­tion was de­layed. Once Zinke took the Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior po­si­tion, delist­ing the Yel­low­stone griz­zlies was among his first ac­tions. Yet be­fore the ink on the or­der was dry, anti-hunt­ing ad­vo­cates filed law­suits to stop the process in fed­eral court. A re­cent rul­ing on delist­ing wolves in the Great Lakes may help bol­ster the anti-hunters’ case too. In hopes of set­tling all the le­gal is­sues sur­round­ing the Yel­low­stone bears be­fore this fall’s hunt­ing sea­son, a U.S. dis­trict judge in Mon­tana ear­lier this year or­dered at­tor­neys on both sides “to put their sprawl­ing ar­gu­ments into a sin­gle set of briefs for a hear­ing in Au­gust,” ac­cord­ing to the Mis­sou­lian news­pa­per. The judge’s rul­ing, and the in­evitable ap­peals process, will de­cide who gets to man­age the Yel­low­stone bears and, more im­por­tant, by whose def­i­ni­tion an En­dan­gered Species Act an­i­mal is no longer en­dan­gered.

A CHANG­ING LAND­SCAPE

Back in 2006, Robert Fer­nan­des, a hunter from Cal­i­for­nia, trav­eled to north­west Wy­oming to hunt elk. On the drive from the air­port to the lodge, he was re­quired to stop and buy bear spray. Af­ter ar­rival, the guide launched into a speech on bears and how if any hunter made the mis­take of killing one, they would be pros­e­cuted like they had mur­dered a hu­man. “On the one hand, they told us how the area was cov­ered up with griz­zlies, and on the other, they said we can’t de­fend our­selves with­out risk of fines or jail,” Fer­nan­des says. In many ways, this at­ti­tude that griz­zlies must be pro­tected at all costs is still com­mon in the West. Bond Isaac­son, who had two wit­nesses to the charge he stopped, says he was nonethe­less ques­tioned like a crim­i­nal. Game and Fish took a he­li­copter to the scene of the killing and took parts of the bear, pho­tos, and a shell cas­ing. The war­den found only one of the two spent shells and took that as a sign that some­thing fishy had un­folded, as Isaac­son tells the story. “I was back in North Car­olina, and the game war­den called me and said, ‘I have a feel­ing you’re not be­ing hon­est with me.’ Here I thought I saved my own life. The other hunter and the guide thanked me for sav­ing their lives. They

were pretty emo­tional about it. Now all of a sud­den, I’m un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion?” The Park County pros­e­cu­tor closed a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion against him in De­cem­ber, cit­ing in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence, with the re­mark, “Isaac­son, although un­co­op­er­a­tive to some de­gree on the cas­ings, ap­pears to [have acted in] self­de­fense.” Part of the re­sis­tance to the griz­zly hunt may have to do with this seis­mic shift in per­spec­tive. Last year, Yel­low­stone griz­zlies had nearly the same le­gal pro­tec­tions as hu­mans. This year, some might be hunted and killed as game an­i­mals. This charis­matic mega-fauna, one of the great sym­bols of the Amer­i­can West, for the first time in 40 years could be some­one’s hunt of a life­time. The ap­peal of killing a griz­zly isn’t some­thing ev­ery hunter un­der­stands ei­ther, says hunt­ing-show host and pub­li­cland ad­vo­cate New­berg, who killed a brown bear in south­east Alaska with his grand­fa­ther 12 years ago. “For a lot of peo­ple, there’s an ele­ment of dan­ger to hunt­ing griz­zlies, whether real or per­ceived, much like the Big Five in Africa,” he says. “That ap­peals to some, but not to oth­ers.” For some, there’s the at­trac­tion of a hunt­ing ad­ven­ture in a stun­ning land­scape. If the Wy­oming hunt hap­pens, it will take place in “some of our finest back­coun­try in the Lower 48,” New­berg says. Yet the larger is­sue of the griz­zly’s long-term sur­vival, ac­cord­ing to lead bear bi­ol­o­gist van Ma­nen, is the land­scape-level change hap­pen­ing through­out the In­ter­moun­tain West. Take Boze­man, Mont., which sits be­tween the Yel­low­stone and North Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide bear pop­u­la­tions, in that 70-mile stretch that will soon be trav­eled by griz­zlies. As Moun­tain Jour­nal re­ported last year, Boze­man will be the size of Salt Lake City by 2041, and have more than 420,000 peo­ple—the size of present-day Min­neapo­lis—by 2065, if growth trends con­tinue. “What has been pro­posed in Wy­oming is not a threat [to the griz­zly pop­u­la­tion],” van Ma­nen says. “The de­vel­op­ment of moun­tain val­leys, the roads and homes as­so­ci­ated with de­vel­op­ment, and more fre­quent back­coun­try use—those are threats. Bears can do quite well in many sit­u­a­tions, they re­spond to change well. But the more we in­fringe on pro­duc­tive bear habi­tat, the closer we come to their tip­ping point.” Griz­zly bear sur­vival is de­pen­dent on large-scale tracts of un­spoiled, wild lands. Griz­zlies, in a way, in­di­cate how wild a land­scape is and are key in de­ter­min­ing how wild we want a land­scape to be. They’re an­other rea­son for en­sur­ing pub­lic lands re­main pub­lic and restric­tions on de­vel­op­ment of the back­coun­try re­main in place. Griz­zlies have al­ready maxed out their al­lot­ted habi­tat in the north­west cor­ner of Wy­oming, and their num­bers will be con­trolled. Griz­zlies will be killed. The ques­tion is whether those bears are to be killed in a state-run pro­gram of trap­pers and marks­men, paid for with tax­payer dol­lars, or by pub­lic hunters who will pay for the priv­i­lege them­selves. “At the end of the day, our hope, and my be­lief, is that an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of hunters are eth­i­cal, are good con­ser­va­tion­ist out­doors­men, who un­der­stand the size and scope of this op­por­tu­nity be­fore them,” chief game war­den Nesvik says. “It’s not with­out risks, but we have to give hunters the chance to do the right thing.”

A griz­zly makes its way up a ridge­line in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park.

From left: Griz­zlies raid­ing a dump in Yel­low­stone Park in 1970; bears are still a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion in the park.

A young griz­zly for­ag­ing on Mount Wash­burn in Yel­low­stone.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.