Admirers of grizzly bears are applauding British Columbia, and at the same time crying over Wyoming. Recently the BC Government listened to the people of a traditionally very conservative province and banned all grizzly hunting. To the south the Trump Administration lifted the endangered status of grizzlies in the Rockies, and Wyoming is proposing a trophy hunt outside of Yellowstone. I spoke with a few of my bear expert guide friends who work in these regions to see what they think.
Eddy Savage makes his living guiding wildlife enthusiasts in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, the world’s largest coastal temperate rainforest. Covering 5 million acres (almost the size of New Jersey) this massive tract of wilderness has been protected from logging since 2006, and is home to grizzlies, wolves, spirit bears and cougars to name a few wilderness icons. In the past, bears could be hunted very close to bear viewing areas, which was certainly a source of heavy controversy. “BC is making a bold statement. They heard the voice of the people. The BC people spoke loudly in opposition to a trophy hunt that was lobbied for by special interest groups around the province” Eddy told me.
I am not anti-hunting, but I do feel very strongly that bear hunting and viewing do not mix. Hunted bears are afraid of, and are dangerous to people, and viewed bears become habituated to people and are not ethical to hunt. After being eradicated from more than half of their original range, it is great to see more people seeing the benefits of having healthy, viewable grizzly populations in the wilderness. Grizzlies have vital roles in the productivity of their habitat, are culturally significant icons of the North American wilderness, and have substantial economic worth where they are still found. Check out a piece I wrote about the value of grizzly bears.
My friends who guide wildlife expeditions in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are not celebrating their Government’s wildlife management decisions like Eddy is. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is proposing the take of 23 grizzlies in lands outside the park Luckily the Montana Wildlife Commission, listening to advice of regional biologists, and considering a spike in grizzly deaths resulting from conflicts with humans, is not allowing a grizzly hunt on their lands. According to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, America has invested $40 million dollars over the last 40 years to save these grizzlies from extinction. With such a slow reproductive rate, such a bear population is still very vulnerable, and is still in recovery stage.
“It is surprising to see a trophy hunt return to the Greater Yellowstone region after decades of hunting reprieve. The state’s fast and ambitious actions to reinstate the hunt has me thinking that they have been sitting at the edge of their seats for years in anticipation of the hunting lift. These bears face enough challenges with habitat loss, highways, railways, farms, and human encroachment affecting their every move” Eddy told me. “BC has up to 15,000 grizzlies province-wide. Alberta has under 1000 province-wide. Both of these provinces, that have high numbers of hunters as well as outdoor goers, have both decided to ban the hunt. I think that Wyoming and Montana should follow suit.”
Bear expert Drew Hamilton guides bear viewing trips in Alaska, Canada, and winter wildlife trips in Yellowstone. “While numbers have rebounded, the population of bears in the GYE face challenges well beyond that of other populations of grizzly bears in North America. Special considerations must be given to ensure this population’s continued recovery” Drew told me.
The wolves of Yellowstone have faced significant challenges when their endangered status was lifted and hunting was allowed outside of the park. My wolf-guide friends immediately noticed declines of wolf numbers in the park, and wolves became much more elusive and difficult to view. This is a shame, as wolf watching brings in an estimated $35 million per year to the region.
What Can You Do?
Do you want Wyoming to rethink their management decisions on hunting Yellowstone Grizzlies who wander out of the park? You have until April 30 to voice your opinion to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. Click here to comment.