A Response to: “Why the Grizzly Bear’s Future Depends on Public Land”

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The proposed removal of the recovered Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears from the protections of the Endangered Species Act has caused an uproar among animal-rights activists and organizations. It has even caused a stir with some sportsmen whose personal opinion differs from teams of biologists from multiple states and federal agencies.

When it comes to contentious issues, open discussion from multiple viewpoints stimulates conversation and reveals facts. Addressing contentious issues can be tricky, especially when facts are not understood or are misrepresented by those with an agenda.

Field & Stream recently attempted to tackle the issue of grizzly-bear recovery in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and they did so with a writer who opposes their own editorial position on the topic. That’s a very brave undertaking, as there’s a chance of confusion, which could lead to backlash from readers, sponsors or others within the hunting community. The editors at Field & Stream made their position clear (they support delisting) and allowed the Sportsmen’s Alliance to comment on the piece, which we appreciate.

Those who argue against delisting give impassioned opinions on why the apex predators should remain protected. However, they don’t acknowledge the facts: the original intent of the listing, the criteria met for delisting, the facts surrounding delisting and future management, nor the intent and role of subpopulations.

They also don’t acknowledge the law. While some would prefer that grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem stay listed as matter of policy, any suggestion these grizzlies are “in danger of extinction” now or “within the foreseeable future” (in all or a significant portion of their range) is ludicrous. That is the governing legal standard. Absent a real danger of extinction, delisting is a mandatory legal requirement, not a discretionary policy choice. Moreover, the ESA requires restoration of protection (relisting) if unexpected declines occur.

Rick Bass, the author of the Field & Stream piece, dismissed the facts in our quote by saying the column wasn’t about delisting of grizzly bears. Then he went on to list why, in his opinion, grizzlies shouldn’t be delisted. He referenced slow reproduction rates and long offspring rearing times – characteristics of grizzlies that are very similar to black bears. Black bears thrive across the U.S. under today’s sound scientific wildlife management that includes hunting.

Similarly, Bass exaggerated threats to grizzlies in a Men’s Journal feature on delisting by grossly overstating the relevance of whitebark pine seeds in their diets (you can read our letter here, and read the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s 2013 findings on topic here – hint: his claims just don’t stack up to scientific study). Likewise, in Field & Stream, he hyperbolized the unrelated, and still protected, grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem by saying “only 20 or so grizzlies remain” (in reality, as of May 17 there are an estimated 56 bears, with a goal of 100). It’s important to note that while Bass tries to confuse the issue, this is a completely different population of grizzlies that will remain protected.

Instead of glorifying an environmental zealot as he did in Men’s Journal, Bass continued his grizzly PR blitz by piggybacking his argument in Field & Stream on that of a trendy topic: the public-lands issue. The gist being that both man and bear need and deserve public lands.

How obvious.

If this was a piece on public lands, why was there no mention of the number of acres of public land suitable for grizzlies, the carrying capacity of those lands and threats to them? Moreover, why not mention specific public lands that provide wildlife corridors connecting populations? There was no mention of public lands specific to grizzly habitat or survival, just a general, and obvious, observation Bass used as a pulpit to preach his personal opinion against delisting.

Nevertheless, by conflating the two important topics, he did a disservice to both. And, in fact, dealt a blow to the public-lands movement. Bass seems to take a preservationist view of grizzly-bear management and habitat. He refuses to embrace the hunter’s conservationist vision, which has only resulted in the proliferation of wildlife. In doing so, he actually rails against public-land use, access and ownership.

“Threats escalate everywhere. Most recently, the Forest Service and Pacific Northwest Trail Association proposed building a trail that thousands of people will likely travel each season through the very last heart of what was once designated as the Yaak grizzlies’ core recovery area. And there’s no shortage of dangers: highways, railroads, towns, and—always—the gridwork of industrial commerce prying open our public lands.”

 

He continues by saying, “As people further encroach on them, more bears will die.”

If these are public lands we’re fighting for, then public access, use and management practices must include multiple parties’ interests. From trail hikers and mountain bikers to hunters and fishermen to, yes, even logging and mining, where those activities are consistent with the management plans of the properties. But, it seems Bass is more interested in preserving public land for grizzly bears than people … himself, the exception, of course.

The greater threat Bass advocates for, however, completely flies in the face of scientific wildlife management and aligns with the extreme animal-rights movement’s ideology.

By claiming that grizzly bears will never be fully recovered until all subpopulations are linked and intermingling genetics is ridiculous, and smacks of ignorance of not just the Endangered Species Act and the distinct population segment policy, but of the objectives of the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem Bass purports to know so intimately.

While there is a goal of 100 grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, the primary objectives have always been to test grizzly bear augmentation techniques and recovery zone research and monitoring, including distribution, habitat use and movement patterns (including resource extraction areas and roads, which Bass rails against), as well as the relationship between human activity, grizzlies and mortality causes.

What’s more, Bass again conflates two subjects to obscure the truth. Nobody is suggesting removing ESA protections for the Cabinet-Yaak population of grizzlies as part of the GYE delisting. They can remain protected, studied and augmented while the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzlies, which (again, for those who missed it) have surpassed every recovery goal, are managed successfully like every other game animal in North America.

This preservationist, all-or-nothing approach to wildlife management espoused by Bass echoes the beliefs and lawsuit filings of the Humane Society of the United States. As the world’s largest animal-rights organization, the Humane Society of the United States just had this argument summarily rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In a decision earlier this month, the court continued the listing of Western Great Lakes wolves while squarely rejecting HSUS’ claim that a recovered population of a species must stay ESA-listed until all populations of that species recover. Meaning, delisting of a recovered grizzly bear population does not have to await recovery of all grizzly populations.

Bass is right about one thing, however. This is a critical moment in our conservation history. Is the Endangered Species Act a tool of conservation? Or is it a preservationist’s ploy to remove man from the habitat, management and natural landscape entirely? Does conservation mean anything, or have we as a nation shifted to a mindset where fears and fundraising trump science and commonsense?

For the grizzly, for the wolf and for every animal linked to them in the ecosystem, including mankind, the need is sound scientific wildlife management based in fact and not ideological opinion.