We’re Putting Grizzlies in the Crosshairs
By Doug Peacock, The Daily Beast, 18 March 2016
A government proposal to remove the grizzly bear from the list of endangered species would surely condemn the species to almost certain slaughter.
For the first time in more than 40 years, Yellowstone National Park’s grizzly bears may soon be in the crosshairs of trophy hunters. Worse, the deadly combination of bear hunting coupled with climate change—which has already decimated Yellowstone’s most important bear food—poses a double whammy threat to the survival of the iconic grizzly.
The March 3 announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) came paired with an astonishing declaration in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to the [Yellowstone grizzly bear population] now, nor are they anticipated to in the future.”
This nearly unbelievable, flat-earth statement by America’s chief wildlife agency should warn us that President Obama is not carefully watching his flock. It also tells us that in the battle to save the Yellowstone grizzly, the FWS has once again aligned itself with the wrong side of the fight.
The federal plan would remove Yellowstone’s grizzly bears from the protections of the Endangered Species Act, which have been in place since 1975, and turn over bear management to the three states surrounding the park. This process is called “delisting,” and it means that the FWS believes that the Yellowstone grizzly population has grown, that the bears have plenty of food, and their habitat and future look just dandy.
Of course tremendous controversy surrounds these claims. Major conservation organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Humane Society, environmental advocates such as Patagonia and GOAL, and a coalition of Native American tribes are all fiercely opposed to delisting. Should the delisting rule be legally challenged again, as it was back in 2009 when the FWS decision was reversed in federal court, the conservation law firm Earthjustice likely will take the case again. Global warming, in particular, has introduced enormous uncertainty as regards the stability of the ecosystem for bears.
The only certain outcome of delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear is that it will result in trophy hunting of bears by the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Sport hunting presents the greatest immediate threat to the survival of Yellowstone’s grizzlies. While the FWS has done a professional job of recovering grizzlies for the past 40 years, if the government successfully delists the bear (only a 60 day comment period and scientific peer review remain as possible speed-bumps in this process), there is no limit on the numbers of bears who may be shot. The FWS says the grizzly population will be carefully managed, but there is no funding for this, nor for monitoring the number of dead bears. The states, especially Wyoming, have been aggressively pushing delisting for years and can’t wait to get their hands on the controls. They’ve already divvied up the Yellowstone’s grizzly pie into wedges of “harvested” bears: Wyoming gets 58 percent, Montana 34 percent, with the final 8 percent going to Idaho (incidentally, the Wind River Reservation tribes get none.)
After spending a federal fortune each year since 1975 to bring the grizzly back from near extinction, we’re now poised to abruptly begin killing them off for the bargain price of a hunting license. Why this fierce madness to kill our largest carnivore?
Photo credit: Thomas D. Mangelsen ()