In my 45 years living in Jackson Hole I have witnessed several wildlife success stories. One of the most gratifying is that of the region’s grizzly bear population, which has rebounded from a low of around 200 to 700-plus today.

There were few grizzly sightings in those early years, and when they occurred they made news. Today perhaps as many as 60 bears use Grand Teton National Park during any given year. This is a conservation success story.

But we must recognize that this dramatic increase occurred while the population was under the full protection of the Endangered Species Act with the cooperation of the national forests, national parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and three state wildlife agencies.

Today, as we debate delisting and transferring grizzly bear management to the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming I have grave concerns. First, I am concerned about the future of the grizzly’s major foods. At the core of the ecosystem Yellowstone Park has suffered a drastic decline of cutthroat trout, an important spring food source, and throughout the ecosystem’s high country we are witnessing the drastic die-off of the white-bark pine, an important fall food for bears.

Coupled with warming temperatures and continuing drought, the landscape and resources that helped bring the grizzly back from the brink of extinction now look to be in jeopardy.

I am also concerned about how the three states, particularly Wyoming, are going to manage grizzly bears once they are delisted. Wyoming is home to the bulk of the ecosystem’s bears, and the Game and Fish Commission has given no assurance that it intends to maintain grizzly numbers at current levels, let alone allow the population to expand into suitable but as yet unoccupied habitat.

In fact, based on recent history, my guess is that the state will be more aggressive in its removal of so-called “problem bears,” with the intent of reducing grizzly numbers.

Witness the department’s recent killing of bear 760, a young male that spent most of its short life in Jackson Hole, often making itself very visible. Although sighted around people and developments, it never caused harm to anyone or damage to any property.

For the single reason of putting up with people and their developments, 760 was trapped by Game and Fish personnel and hauled hundreds of miles away and released into a completely unfamiliar habitat harboring a robust grizzly population. Looking back it seems the agency’s relocation of grizzly 760 was destined to fail.

The young bear’s life ended when it was trapped again and euthanized after eating part of a deer carcass hanging near a hunter’s house.

A lot of the grizzly bears killed for getting into “trouble” are those on the edges of the core population, locations where there is a greater chance of coming into contact with people and their property.

Coincidently these fringe bears may also be those most inclined to move between the Greater Yellowstone and the northern Montana bear population, thus forming a connection between isolated populations and contributing to the genetic exchange necessary to prevent inbreeding.

As if these challenges weren’t enough, it’s clear that once delisting occurs the three states will open grizzly bear hunting seasons. How aggressive these hunts will be remains to be seen, but what is clear is that more grizzlies will die through state-sanctioned hunts.

Guiding grizzly management in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the Interagency Grizzly Bear Management Plan signed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the various federal agencies and the three state game management agencies.

The plan sets the minimum grizzly population for the region at 500. With 700 or more bears now in the region, I have to wonder if the three states don’t feel comfortable removing a lot of bears, even hundreds of bears, before they have to think about changing their management ways.

Until Wyoming and the other two states assure the public that they will manage the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population at or above current numbers, delisting is the wrong move. The great bear is facing too many critical environmental problems without having to suddenly face bullets and more traps because of a uncontrolled penchant for “removals” — aka killing more bears.

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Jacksonite Franz Camenzind is a biologist, filmmaker and former head of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

(7) comments

Leslie Patten

There are other problems with hunting grizzlies not mentioned.
1. in 10 years of a female grizzlies life, she will only replace herself. If she were to live as long as the oldest documented female, around 24 years, she'd only give birth to 3 females. Females can not even reproduce until they are around 5 years old. Can a hunter tell a female from a male? Unlikely unless she has cubs right there. It will be very easy to reduce the population and quickly. Presently there are rules in place for how many females can be eliminated from the population by USF&W.
2. Female grizzly offspring do not move far to establish their own territory--at most only 9 miles from their mother's home range center. What that means is that establishing a connective corridor for genetic exchange to the NCDE will take many many years.
3. Mentioned below in a comment is that hunted bears will fear people. Bears are solitary animals apart from mothers with cubs. A dead solitary bear will not teach a living bear anything.
4. The GYE grizzly population is genetically isolated. Studies have shown that over time this population will decline. It is well-known science that genetically isolated populations of plants and animals over time decline. Without connective corridors and the infusion of fresh genes, our bears will not thrive. At present there are very few, and I mean very few bears, in connective corridors to the NCDE population. Some of the slated areas for restoration such as the Bitterroots have zero bears.
Besides genetic diversity, connectivity will ensure continued food sources with a changing climate.
5. It is proven that grizzly bears are as smart as the great apes. It is time that we initiate a different attitude towards these animals. They were considered sacred to the tribes and for good reason.

Gary Humbard

There are no problem grizzlies, just opportunistic ones. Grizzlies have two goals in life, eat and breed. When they get into "problems" its always about food so by keeping food away from them, problems disappear. It's been proven by keeping food away, problems decrease. For those bears who persist on the fringes, there are other ways to discourage them such as using certain breeds of dogs (Karelain) to chase them away. Bottom line, there has been extremely rare cases of predatory grizzly bear and its up to us to learn how to live with them.

Although I have minimal confidence in WF&G in managing grizzlies, I do believe its time to remove the protection of GYE and the NCDE grizzlies. They have recovered in those areas and its time for the USFWS to begin the recovery effort of grizzlies into the North Cascades and Bitterroot Ecosystems.

Robert Wharff

This article highlights the problem with continued protections for a recovered species. Continued protections will not lead to more grizzlies. We are stacking them on top of each other now.
Thinking that increasing the overall number of grizzlies will encourage bears to emigrate to other areas is unrealistic. Increasing their numbers will only lead to increased conflicts as bears are forced into contact with people.
Yes, the Wyoming game and fish department will issue hunting licenses. Sportsmen have spent millions of dollars in the management and proliferation of grizzly bears. Currently, even under ESA protections, grizzly bears are killed. Hunters should be given the opportunity to resume hunting of these magnificent animals. That will continue the protection of the species and allow for revenues to be generated to support their management. This is the proven method of wildlife management. The Wyoming game and fish department has a proven track record of being very, very conservative when it comes to management of trophy game animals (mountain lions & bears). They have absolutely no incentive to mismanage grizzly bears and see them relisted. However, it makes no sense to continue paying federal and state employees to kill grizzly bears.

Lud Kroner

Another example of changing the goal posts.

Ryder Juntunen

Perhaps you could elaborate? who's changing and what posts?

Ryder Juntunen

I appreciate your concerns especially with Wyoming's attempts to list all wolves as simply predators and allowing a shoot on site regardless of season or tag.

However here are some thoughts you may wish to consider regarding bears:

1) The occurrence of young and very old "problem" grizzly bears near populated areas could be the result of them being pushed out of their habitat by adult bears. i.e. the habitat is full.

2) Responsible hunting of grizzly bears will make them "scared" of humans which will actually reduce the conflicts that are occurring.

3) When they stopped issuing tags for grizzle bears in the Bob Marshal Wilderness the number of grizzly bears killed did not go down. Simply, instead of the hunters killing 10-20 grizzly bears a year, the game wardens and biologist trapped and killed the same number of problem bears in communities close to the Bob, every year. Once again...the habitat is full.

4) The grizzly bear is the greatest terrestrial omnivore on the to survive on anything edible. Concerns about pine nuts and trout simply ignore this biological fact. We should not overlook these concerns but they do not represent the limiting factor as far as grizzly bears are concerned.

5) Habitat, Habitat, Habitat. Once the grizzly bears habitat reaches its holding capacity; young and very old bears are forced to the fringes and into human habitat. What should we do? create more bear habitat? or remove these bears to avoid possible conflicts? As a hunter, I say let us manage them with a hunting season: maintain a healthy viable population, raise money for the states wildlife management programs and reduce problem bears.

Cindy Campbell

Kudos Franz, thank you for your insightful, fact based article. Our community is very fortunate to count you as a member..

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