Grizzly treaty

Members of the Shoshone Bannock tribes pledge protection for grizzly bears in 2016 during a treaty signing ceremony at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. Legislation that would give the tribes more authority over grizzly bear management has been introduced to Congress.

Grizzlies aren’t an animal to be killed for a trophy but are regarded rather as a “relative” and a “grandparent” in Native American lore and religion.

That contention was put before Congress on Wednesday by Lynnette Grey Bull, a spokeswoman for the Wind River Indian Reservation’s Northern Arapaho Elders Society. She appealed to federal lawmakers to respect the cultural importance of grizzlies to America’s first peoples.

“The terms we use for grizzly bears are the same as we use for people,” Grey Bull testified before a U.S. House of Representatives natural resources subcommittee on water, oceans and wildlife.

“The grizzly bear is integral to the cultural and spiritual practices of the Northern Arapaho people,” she told lawmakers. “Our elders teach how the grizzly bear brought us to our medicines.”

Native American-inspired legislation that would fundamentally alter how grizzly bears could be moved around or killed is what brought Grey Bull, other tribal representatives and Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik to Washington, D.C. The bill at issue, the “Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act,” essentially amounts to a ban on sport hunting Ursus arctos horribilis in the Lower 48. The act would demand an array of authorizations and consultations ahead of euthanizing bears that are causing conflict — decisions that today are made swiftly, albeit still with federal consultation.

Nesvik, while fielding questions from Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., testified that the provisions of the bill could result in more grizzlies and people dying. In his remarks, Game and Fish’s top employee pointed out that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears have been numerically recovered per the terms of their Endangered Species Act delisting goals for 16 years, and that the state has invested upwards of $50 million to help the species rebound to the 700-plus animals that exist in the ecosystem.

“Today, we are doing the on-the-ground work,” Nesvik said. “It is state managers that are responding to conflicts, flying dangerous high-mountain surveys, and providing education to people working and recreating in bear country.”

Bozeman, Montana, attorney Jonathan Wood, a fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, also spoke against the act. Its provisions, he said, would effectively retract state authority over wildlife and dictate federal management in perpetuity, giving states less flexibility over recovered grizzly bear populations than they would have under the Endangered Species Act.

“These provisions would effectively deter efforts to recover wildlife,” Wood said, “depriving the states and their citizens of any reward for that effort.”

Only five representatives were seated for the hearing. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney wasn’t present, nor was Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the bill’s primary sponsor and chairman of the broader U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.

Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., chaired the hearing instead, and he championed the bill while lamenting Wyoming’s and Idaho’s foiled plans to hunt grizzlies for the first time in four decades.

The seasons were called off when a U.S. District Court judge ruled in September that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to account for how delisting the Yellowstone region’s grizzlies would affect the species in the rest of its range. Native American tribes also sued and posed their own arguments, but the judge did not rule on them. Fish and Wildlife and the states signaled they will appeal.

“While these decisions have made their way through the courts,” Neguse said, “the fact is that we are dealing with an administration that places the interests of trophy hunters and the industries above those of Native Americans and their heritage.”

Grijalva’s grizzly bill is modeled after the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits the killing and possession of eagles and their parts because of the species’ significance to Native people. Ben Nuvamsa, a former chairman of Arizona’s Hopi Tribe, emphasized the cultural significance of the brown and tawny-colored bears that once roamed much of the American West, from the plains to the deserts to the Northern Rocky Mountain high country where the species persists today. Grizzlies to his people are “healers” and “medicine men” that play a central role in their traditions.

“The grizzly bear, ‘Hoonaw,’ as we call him, is held in high esteem, not only in our Hopi culture, but by other Native people in the United States and Canada,” Nuvamsa said. “I do not recall if there is a tribal nation that does not hold the bear in high regard.”

Among its other provisions, the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act would create a “Grizzly Bear Scientific Committee” that would complement the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Its membership would include six tribal representatives, one each for six Lower 48 regions where grizzlies exist today.

The act also calls for a study that would explore the reintroduction of grizzlies onto tribal lands. Another provision applies to stockmen who possess federal grazing allotments. Permits for the allotments would be automatically voided if a permittee was convicted of killing a grizzly or violating another part of the act.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

(8) comments

Ron Prentice

The Arapaho were not the Great Warriors as they state, They followed other Tribes around and took the Scraps, The Shoshoni and Wind River and the Southern Cheyenne have no use for them and the Arapaho never have say in anything of substance on their reservations. The Tribes need to experience some of the death that has occurred in Wyoming and Montana at the ill attitudes of the Grizzlies, there are people on the Rocky Mountain front in Montana that cannot let their children play outside because of Grizzlies colonizing new territory. It is a shame the Bears have been recovered for over 16 years and all this emotional stuff needs to end and let Wildlife managers take care of their states. If the Natives want the Bears then put them on the reservations. Then they can take care of the matters and see how it works out. It might be about the cash cow.

Jay Westemeier

"there are people on the Rocky Mountain front in Montana that cannot let their children play outside because of Grizzlies colonizing new territory". If that isn't an over-emotional response, I don't know what is. I could list scores animals, both domestic and wild, that pose a bigger danger to man than the grizzly bear.

Zack Barner

Exactly why we should start moving the excess bears to those reservations. Everyone likes bears until their lives and economics are threatened by them. I'm not saying we kill every bear, but we should manage them by the most effective science based measures.


Like a relative or grandparent. They can put them up in the back bedroom. Make for a great sit-com or reality show. Honey who ate the kids?

Chad guenter

This is being pushed by the same people that scream "separation of church and state" when it comes to Christian beliefs.

Wildlife MANAGEMENT is all that should be considered. The grizzlies have saturated their existing habitat.

Jay Westemeier

Your narcissistic logic concludes that 700 bears have saturated an existing habitat that once supported thousands.

Chad guenter

got a link stating "thousands" in the GYE at any time in history???

Jay Westemeier

Sorry, I forgot that you live in a GYE bubble. Just look up historical GYE grizzly population densities. You’ll have to do a little math.

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