Lawmakers, Indian tribes, HSUS call for national ban on trophy hunting of grizzly bears in lower 48 states
Today, I stood shoulder to shoulder with leaders from some of the best known Native American tribes in the West – the Shoshone Bannock, Hopi, and the Crow Creek Sioux, among others – to support the introduction of federal legislation that will establish special protections for grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. Wildlife advocate and Congressman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., introduced H.R. 3894, the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act, to make the killing, possession, or transport of grizzly bears or their parts unlawful in a large portion of the United States. The bill is also designed to send a signal that the lifting of threatened species status is premature, and to chart a new course in our relationship with America’s greatest carnivore.
If Congress takes this action, it would come on the heels of the provincial government of British Columbia announcing this year’s grizzly bear trophy hunting will be the last in the province.
The introduction of the U.S. legislation comes just three months after the Department of the Interior removed federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, despite opposition from The HSUS, conservation organizations, and 125 Native American tribes from the United States and Canada whose leaders signed a historic treaty that is only one of three of its kind in written history. The treaty calls not only for continued protections for grizzly bears—a sacred animal for so many of the tribes—but also demands that the U.S. government consult with the tribes before authorizing activities that may increase grizzly bear mortality. That consultation has happened only in the most cursory fashion, if any, in the past.
In British Columbia, the engagement of the First Nations was crucial in the decision to ban trophy hunting of grizzlies starting in December.
Rep. Grijalva’s measure would ban trophy hunting of the great bears to the south of British Columbia. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the United States already forbids the trophy hunting of polar bears. Grizzlies are even scarcer in number in the lower 48 states than polar bears in Alaska, and they are also facing an array of human-caused threats to their habitats and traditional food sources. Driven to roam beyond the safe confines of national parks by food scarcity, Yellowstone grizzly bears are crossing paths with humans more than ever before and in every case they are coming out on the losing end. In 2015 and 2016, by one means or another, humans killed more than 100 bears as they traveled outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. “I don’t think the population can sustain any increase in mortality,” grizzly bear expert Professor David Mattson, told The HSUS. “In fact, the population will continue to decline unless we actually reduce the number of bears dying from all causes.”
Another grizzly bear expert, Professor Robert Weilgus, told The HSUS that if the grizzly bears are delisted, the trophy hunting that follows will have effects far beyond individual bears shot. “Grizzly bears haven’t evolved to be hunted like game,” he said. “If they hunt them [around Yellowstone], I don’t see how the bear population could continue to stay at the level it is now. It would pretty much have to decline.”
The legislation would do more than stop trophy hunters from stalking and killing grizzly bears. If a public lands rancher kills a grizzly bear, he will lose his privileges to graze on those federal lands. Indiscriminate predator controls such as cyanide bombs, traps, and snares would not be permitted in grizzly bear habitat. Rather than killing bears, the government must consider relocation of so-called “nuisance” bears to tribal lands, furthering their protections for future generations.
What the tribes want is no different from what the majority of Americans want: grizzly bears in national parks and on other federal public lands conserved and protected for future generations. We’ve seen it in poll after poll and in tens of thousands of comments from individual citizens to our federal government. Federal officials seem to be dismissing the American public’s pleas to protect endangered species, even as wolf and bear watching is a $1.4 billion annual asset to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Millions of tourists visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks from around the globe each year just to see these icons in the wild. While Congress and the administration coddle the industries intent on destroying grizzly bears and their habitat, the American public and Native American tribes are ignored in favor of special interests.
Americans were rightly outraged when they saw images of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer and his hunting guide grinning over the lion they’d slain outside of a major national park in Zimbabwe two summers ago. Why should it be any more acceptable for a Minnesotan or a Texan or a Californian to slay a grizzly bear on the margins of Yellowstone for the same self-aggrandizing purposes?
Federal law bans trophy hunting of polar bears and the needless killing of golden eagles and wild horses and burros. It’s time for policy makers at the federal level to recognize that some actions are way beyond the pale when it comes to our treatment of grizzly bears. Our sad legacy of near extirpation of the grizzly bear over the last 150 years is a cautionary tale, and we know too much about that sad history to do anything but reverse course in a decisive way.