The Brewing Battle Over Grizzly Delisting and Trophy Hunting in the Yellowstone Ecosystem

By on January 5, 2016 with 18 Comments

In recent years, we’ve been through what can only be called the wolf wars, as The HSUS and other animal welfare and conservation organizations have struggled in one arena after another to prevent the government and the ranching and trophy-hunting lobbies from enabling or conducting mass and inhumane killings of these still-recovering predators. Now the battle lines are being drawn in the grizzly bear wars, and the lives of an estimated 674 or so grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem are at special risk. Yesterday, the Associated Press got hold of a document detailing plans by Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to divvy up trophy-hunting permits for grizzlies, with these states treating delisting as a fait accompli and also displaying an irrational and frightening exuberance for authorizing trophy-hunting programs for this threatened species.

Last year, when FWS signaled the possible removal of Yellowstone grizzlies, observers knew it would hand off management of the animals to the very same state wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming that have unleashed thousands of hunters and trappers to break up wolf families and kill them with an arsenal of guns and traps. (In the northern Rockies, wolves are now just protected in Wyoming – and only there thanks to legal action by The HSUS and other groups, as well as defensive maneuvers we’ve made in Congress to prevent delisting). This is a dangerous delegation of power to states where politics routinely trump science, common sense, and humane sensibilities when it comes to the status and role of predators.

11781742_1036827382994138_6618303196420755440_nFor those in need of visual aid and a compelling argument, your best source is Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek; An Intimate Portrait of 399, a compelling new book by nature photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen and environmental journalist Todd Wilkinson. Over 240 pages of stunning photography and accompanying narrative, the pair recounts the tale of well-known Yellowstone mama bear 399, her successive sets of cubs, and their struggles to make a life in one of the nation’s last remaining grizzly refuges. It’s the kind of book you might leave centered on a table in your living room, so guests can marvel at the grandeur of Yellowstone and its most powerful and awe-inspiring predator. But the narrative penned by Wilkinson is no less absorbing, conveying a message of critical importance to the survival of one of our most iconic species. Wilkinson paints a comprehensive portrait of the challenges facing grizzlies, reminding us that it’s not just the prospect of trophy hunting that threatens grizzly bears, but also dangers posed by low reproductive rates, climate change, the loss of key food sources, and more.

Grizzly bear 610 and her cubs explore the forest tree line near the roadside in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Grizzly bear 610 and her cubs explore the forest tree line near the roadside in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen

As Wilkinson notes, in the mid-18th century there were around 50,000 grizzlies roaming the area that now encompasses the United States. Today, estimates put their numbers between 800 to 1,000 in the lower 48. As such, one would be hard pressed to argue that grizzlies are thriving – even with around 674 of them roaming our first national park. Part of this is biological: they have a startlingly slow reproductive rate and continue to die at only slightly lower rates than those at which they give birth. There were an estimated 59 bear deaths in Yellowstone this year alone.

Human threats are hitting bears from multiple angles. Traditionally, whitebark pine nuts have provided one of the core dietary staples for grizzly bears. Yet, the whitebark pine tree has recently faced assault by mountain pine beetles and a virulent fungus called blister rust. Another source of sustenance – cutthroat trout – is in decline due to the introduction of nonnative trout into Yellowstone Lake. Army cutworm moths, considered a favorite snack of grizzlies, are vulnerable to pesticide use and habitat disruption, increasingly likely due to global warming. And winter kill food sources such as elk are in shorter supply now than in recent years due to increased predation from humans, wolves, and cougars.

As Wilkinson notes, in the mid-18th century there were around 50,000 grizzlies roaming the area that now encompasses the United States. Today, estimates put their numbers between 800 to 1,000 in the lower 48.

As Wilkinson notes, in the mid-18th century there were around 50,000 grizzlies roaming the area that now encompasses the United States. Today, estimates put their numbers between 800 to 1,000 in the lower 48. Above, 399 with her first set of triplets, in 2007 Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen

A more fundamental argument against delisting exists – bad facts. A 2013 paper by two prominent biologists suggests that grizzly bear counts could well be overestimated, and stem from certain ingrained methodological flaws, including non-standardized population count methods and increased efforts to search for bears in well-identified habitats. Further, somewhere between 46 to 66 percent of grizzly bears killed by humans go undetected; they regularly succumb to M-44 cyanide capsules used against coyotes and other smaller predators.

Still, we can’t forget the moral aspect of killing these remarkable animals for their heads, and one need only flip through Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek to find it staring back at you. If we allow the trophy hunting of grizzlies in Yellowstone, those bears who are both wary of people but tolerant of them may be the first to go. That could mean 399 and her brood, who have for many years ignored the hordes of onlookers and snapping cameras without incident.

Is this how their well-documented journey should end? This new book by Mangelsen and Wilkinson provides a clear answer; I would urge readers to discover it for themselves. And get ready for battle as the grizzly bear wars begin early this year.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. M Ruth Smith says:

    I find it incredibly sickening to think that our “little boys with their guns” feel like they have to kill our majestic wild life! What is WRONG WITH THEM?

    • Ana (Cheechako) says:

      sick people dear, sick selfish, kill for their glory and live in a bubble.
      We must pass on the word and ask people sign petitions on facebook to stop this genocide

    • Diana says:

      Not just “little boys”. There are many women hunters now. They are no better

      • Marcia Huyette says:

        SO TRUE! How could anyone just kill a magnificent creature – for nothing – with a high-powered rifle???? Just for the thrill. Not in defense. THAT is truly sick.

  2. Zig Pope says:

    Been wondering when you were going to start shouting about this! When the guy in charge of the fed program is itchy to kill them, himself, there is a huge integrity issue.

    We need to get loud about this!!!

  3. Dorothy Rodgers says:

    Don’t stop the battle to save these magnificent creatures HSUS. We are standing behind you, just as we did the wolves. Let us all know how we can help when the time comes. Thank you!

  4. Linda love says:

    It’s getting rediculus. ……killing is all they want to do any more….leave the animals alone worry about the US an what Obama is doing to our country an of course the Muslims raking over it ….I believe hunting for food but this trophy hunting is sick

    • Diana says:

      Obama has done little for animals and wildlife in general. They don’t fit into his agenda (subsidized solar & bird killing wind turbines)
      Very disappointing, I would expect better from a liberal administration

  5. Dominique says:

    It is disgusting and sad that humans always consider the worth of an animals life based on what they get out of it, never that the animal has the right and deserves to live. If human encroachment has not left these animals enough territory, than expand their habitats, the answer should not ever be to murder our wildlife, there are other more intelligent science based ways to manage wildlife. We seem to over look the facts that Wildlife Watching generates 7-10 times more revenue than “hunting” and that “hunting programs are heavily subsidized by the publics tax dollars for the 2-5% of the population of “special interest” groups of hunters, this is not what the other 98-95% want to happen to our wildlife. Our government Fish and Wildlife agency’s need to be re-organized and adapt to that and stop being corruptly bought out by private interest groups of Ranchers that overgraze and destroy our land and wildlife habitats, and the NRA and the Safari Club, that corruptly buys the F&W to keep their 2-5% of hunters murdering as many of our wildlife as they can to fullfill thier sociopathis bloodlusts. At what point do the people that pay the tax’s make the decisions to manage wildlife with non-lethal methods and take us out of the dark ages. Please let’s STOP them from murdering animals.

  6. Linda love says:

    Stop trophy hunting now

  7. Ana (Cheechako) says:

    First of all congratulations in the succeed of horses, you guys are top noch. Hats off…

    We must not only fight this battle for this icon bears in the USA but to end the ridiculous and greedy trophy hunting in all states of USA.

    Kentucky dept. of fish and wildlife has a huge range of games in their website allowing hunting for elks and deers and the list is ridiculous.

    My concern is what is happening in the soil of this park (s) while this battle is not yet at its end. Are this creatures hunted in the mean time?

    Who protected them? How to control how many cubs stay behind if mama bear is killed and how to protect them and or help them to survive?

    There must be a bill to pass as a mandatory law to force all states to stop the hunting and protect all species as a national conservation wild life in all states.
    There is no way to wait until there are two or three of 50 left to take action.
    The battle must be ferocious as this greedy selfish hunters without boundaries are.

  8. Sheena Johnston says:

    These beautiful bears must be protected! I am so sick of these greedy trophy hunters that destroy the life of these beautiful innocent bears!

  9. Allison Grassetti says:

    How is it that a handful of sick and deranged Trophy Hunters can win out over the majority of people that feel these beautiful and majestic creatures should be protected. How do Trophy Hunters have rights? Trophy Hunters belong living in an isolated and desolate land; they have no place in nature. By allowing these soulless, ego driven monsters to destroy nature and all of its wonder, sadly our world will eventually end up void of authentic wildlife. And it is this void, for many of us, that will destroy our very being.

  10. Olga says:

    The biggest thread to animal kingdom is mankind. So much ignorance is floating around… Time to speak up for animal rights all over the world.

  11. Ed Goodrow says:

    I support the hunting of these animals when over population is hurting the species. Yes, like human, animals can put strain on the natural resources an area can provide. And I agree, it’s man turning their natural habitat into neighborhoods, shopping malls, golf courses, etc. I ask you to look at your own home – what species paid the real cost of your home? Was is a native ground squirrel or white tail deer? Don’t forget the wood that built you home…..wasn’t that wood apart of a tree that was a part of a forest?

    I hate it but hunting to keep a species in balance with what resources there are is a necessary evil. I hate the thought of seeing such a majestic animal being shot but to see an entire family of bear wasting away from a lack of food is worse.

    Perhaps we should out-law living in Wyoming? Have the government buy all the privately owned property and create one massive park? Of course we will have to agree that a particular star on our nation’s flag will be colored green vice white but that is a small price to pay to protect animals.

    The hunt should ONLY occur when it’s PROVEN by a impartial panel that the number of animals is reaching the maximum number the land can support. And, the hunt should only occur after every effort is taken to re-locate animals to areas with smaller populations.

    I hate saying it but….at times, these hunts save animals.

  12. murei says:

    Is there a petition we can sign on That would really do some good!

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