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Op-Ed | A Protective Firewall For Grizzlies

A grizzly sow and her cubs in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem/Daryl Hunter

How can the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem best be protected?/Daryl Hunter

Editor's note: The following guest column is from Daryl Hunter, a professional photographer who makes a living, in part, by shooting grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with a camera, not a rifle.

The delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear is imminent and this we should celebrate (‘’’’dancing’’’’). Now that our happy dance is complete, we must ensure the grizzlies’ recovery is permanent. To ensure “continuity of achievement,” the grizzlies need a firewall to protect the success of this achievement from human foible.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee was formed in 1983 to help ensure recovery of viable grizzly bear populations and their habitat in the lower 48 states through interagency coordination of policy, planning, management, and research. Many people have been working on this recovery for decades, for some; it has been most of their career. I can understand why the delisting of the grizzly before their retirement is their goal. A metaphorical gold watch if you will.

Many will argue differently, but I believe that our “isolated” population of grizzlies has recovered, albeit tenuously, and I don’t have a problem with the delisting. The problem is, as the delisting of the wolves demonstrated, a hunting season for grizzlies will soon follow. I believe a hunting season is a freight train coming at us we can’t stop! Managing grizzly bears for the (Wyoming, Idaho and Montana) game and fish departments is expensive, and they desire to recoup some expense with grizzly bear hunting tags, but their real savings will be the killing of bears. All we can do is hope to mitigate the outcome by providing a firewall, a fallback zone where the grizzlies will never be hunted, an incubator of sorts.

"Social tolerance” is the term used by grizzly managers when considering the human factor intersect. Social acceptance is a tough sell for those who fear predators might hurt their children along the wildland-urban interface; grizzly advocates must understand this as we move forward with our mitigative efforts to ensure a long-term grizzly recovery. If the residents on the outskirts of our towns and ranchers along the periphery of your national forests can protect their property, social acceptance for grizzlies in our wild areas will grow. If people keep getting attacked outside Livingston, Montana, and grizzlies are harvesting apples in St. Anthony, Idaho, or trying to den in garages in Driggs, Idaho, social tolerance will shrink. We need to cultivate social tolerance, not risk it.

My social tolerance for grizzlies is high because I have one of the 155+ easily discernable jobs created by grizzly bear tourism. Because of my familiarity, I understand bears aren’t out to get us. I consider them “Revenue Bears.” Game and Fish doesn’t. Every hotel and restaurant of the greater Yellowstone communities are beneficiaries of “Revenue Bear” tourism. I wish we wouldn’t have a hunt, but as a pragmatist, I don’t have a problem with a limited hunting season for the grizzly bears. What is good for the wilderness isn’t necessarily good for the outskirts of Cody, Wyoming, Bozeman, Montana, and St. Anthony Idaho. Although hunting will kill some bears outside the wilderness, I believe it will encourage bears who learn to fear humans to stay in the wild areas. In the wild areas they will be out of people’s backyards, and away from ranches. We have many black bears where I live in Swan Valley, Idaho, but I never see them because they are hunted. I see their tracks; I hear them busting through the woods and across the creeks when they hear me in the area. Because they are hunted, they avoid people.

Our Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana game and fish departments, who are also part of the IGBC, will argue that Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks are the safety zone firewall that will protect the grizzlies. I counterpoint; if Yellowstone and Grand Teton could protect them, why did the population crash to start with? That is why the alphabet soup of agencies of the IGBC in 1993 created the more logical and demonstrably effective “Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone," known today as the “Primary Conservation Area.”

The PCA has fostered the glacial pace yet successful recovery we enjoy today. This Primary Conservation Area is 9,210 square miles equaling 5,893,760 acres. This original “Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone” has to be the firewall “no hunting zone” to ensure the “continuity of achievement” of the Grizzly Bear Recovery effort.

Wyoming Game and Fish thinks 7,229 square miles equaling 4,626,560 acres is adequate. I’m sure Montana and Idaho game and fish agree. Clearly that would infringe on the range the Grizzly Recovery efforts deemed important essential recovery habitat.

The IGBC Recovery Plan states; The PCA contains “The Minimum ” seasonal habitat components needed to support the recovered grizzly bear population, as defined in the Recovery Plan. “A recovered population is one having a high probability of existence into the foreseeable future (greater than 100 years).” (Note: This statement in the recovery plan was drafted before the crash of the essential food sources, white bark pine and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations.)

Proposed grizzly protection zone around Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem/Daryl Hunter

This proposed "firewall" could help protect the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's grizzly bear population once the bruins are delisted from the Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also part of the IGBC, whose mission statement says: “ Work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”

However upon grizzly delisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is inclined to capitulate to “states rights,” putting the future of grizzlies in the hands of those who find them a nuisance and expensive; hence, rendering their mission statement meaningless.

We hold these grizzly truths to be self-evident; hence, for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s, team members, the Wyoming Game and Fish, Montana Game and Fish, and Idaho Game and Fish to institute a hunting season within the boundaries of the “Primary Conservation Area” not only would be reckless, it would be ludicrous! Let’s not let this happen!

Daryl L Hunter is a writer, photographer, speaker and tour guide who works out of Jackson Wyoming who once wrote a conservative column for JH Weekly called “And Rightly So”.

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Good insights from one of the most experienced wildlife behaviorists in the region. A must read for all of us who live in the region.

As Yellowstone National Park settles into its balanced ecosystem--particularly after the reintroduction of wolves in 1995--I am hopeful that as Americans we continue to value & preserve our first national park and its current status of health. Daryl Hunter's proposed firewall boundary makes logical sense to simply not allow hunting of grizzlies within the PCA recovery zone. Behavioral science tells us that the bears will quickly learn to stay within a natural boundary which we create. Surely we are smarter than the average bear and do not need to react out of fear, but plan because of our fear, to mange a firewall PCS recovery zone and manage it effectively: with preservation of a social consciousness, safety and a balanced ecosystem for all.

Interesting article.  Our commitment to the perpetuation of natual bear populations in and aournd national parks is reflective of our commitment to the fundemental ideals of the NPS Organic Act.  Ideally, those of us privileged to visit or work in national parks where healthy populations of native wildlife continue to exist will make every effort to avoid imposing our presence on these members of the natural community.

Behaviorist?  I like it Loren.  I guess when we spend more time in the field than the bioligists, that is what we become if we are paying attention. Thank you.

Your proposal is intelligent, reasonable and achievable. 

Appreciate it Tim, I know many of our photographer friends won't thinks so.

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