The HSUS, along with its affiliate the Fund for Animals, today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) over its removal of federal protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. By taking away the “threatened” status for bears under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the federal government is for all practical purposes handing over the bears to the whim of fish and game agencies hell-bent on allowing private citizens to slay these majestic animals for the thrill of the exercise. Even before the bears lost their federal protection, wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have already adopted frameworks to authorize trophy hunting as early as this fall. They’ve been polishing their rifles and loading up for years, regardless of the bears’ numbers and the range of other threats that imperil their long-term viability.
Specifically, the delisting rule ignores the ongoing existential threat posed to these bears by habitat loss, disappearance of staple foods like whitebark pine and cutthroat trout, and continuing challenges associated with human-wildlife conflict. These and other factors contributed to a surge in grizzly bear deaths, including a famous 25-year old bear named Scarface who was shot three times at close range right outside Yellowstone National Park (in 2015, 61 bears were confirmed dead and in 2016, 58). And that’s before the states let loose the hunters. With trophy hunting now looming, the bears will face a full-on assault, including spring hunts in 2018 targeting female bears with infant cubs.
Indeed, the states have already divvied up the hunting allocations, with the lion’s share going to Wyoming (58 percent), followed by Montana (34 percent) and Idaho (8 percent). Grizzlies spending most of their lives in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks will be at risk, since they frequently roam across park boundaries in search of food. The states have no plans to prohibit hunting along the peripheries of these parks. The HSUS filed two lawsuits in state court challenging the hasty and illegal process Montana and Wyoming used to adopt these shortsighted hunting frameworks.
Through the official public comment process, the American public has responded in overwhelming fashion, signaling that it wants grizzly bears conserved and protected from trophy hunting and other forms of needless human violence and hazard. Federal protection has brought the bears back from the precipice, but threats continue to jeopardize their future. The federal agencies’ work is not complete, and it’s wrong for this hand-off to occur when they know—when we all know—that the states cater to trophy hunters salivating at the idea of killing one of the continent’s greatest predators.
It was trophy hunting and other malicious forms of bear killing that put the animals in a perilous condition in the first place. The philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The communities with the longest story-telling memories related to grizzly bears—Native American communities throughout North America—have been unanimous in condemning the idea of a trophy hunt.
These bears are an economic engine in the Yellowstone region—a vital draw for millions of Americans and people throughout the world. Handing their lives over to a few dozen trophy hunters—who will diminish the opportunity for millions to see these amazing animals in the wild—is morally wrong and will stifle commerce in rural communities that depend on the public’s appreciation of these icons within what is perhaps America’s most important, intact, and storied ecosystem. We can’t let that happen.