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The magnificent and endangered grizzly

There’s been plenty of hubbub regarding bears this summer in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, mainly grizzlies.  If you haven’t followed it, we had two deaths just on the eastern side of the Absarokas from grizzlies this summer, one of them occurred just up the road from where I live.  In addition, there’s been 38 grizzly deaths just this year, 31 on those caused by humans.  And many of the bears causing trouble have been found to be underweight, or their cubs were malnourished.  Grizzlies were put back on the Endangered Species list just this summer because one of their main food sources, White Bark pine nuts, is also in trouble and in major decline.

Grizzlies have been coming down into hay fields, down into the flats where there are towns and farms.  Why? Because they need more habitat, they need food.  Let’s not forget that grizzlies were actually plains animals, following the Bison and ‘Buffalo Wolves’ on the prairie.  Grizzlies can’t climb trees and their enormous claws are adapted for digging.


Grizzly rooting around


On the other hand, the smaller Black Bear is a forest bear.  It can climb trees.

It’s not just that ‘we have too many bears’.  Its that we’ve decided Grizzlies can only be in places where people don’t want to live year round–the high mountains–or where we’ve protected the land, such as Yellowstone Park.  And even in those places we barely tolerant them, calling on the feds to move or kill a bear (Grizzlies get three strikes before they’re out, dead out that is) that interferes with our ‘rights’.  In an area north of Gardiner, a sow with her two underweight cubs were moved for raiding a chicken coup.  Chickens are bear bait, and having one just north of the north entrance to the Park makes your chickens a restaurant for a bear.  I don’t understand why we have to waste good tax dollars and federal employees’ time on moving bears for stupid people.

My valley happens to be one of the places the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moves bad bears, with the hopes they’ll go into Yellowstone.  My valley has good access into the Park, but most of these bears just quickly ‘home’ or return to their territory.  This I’ve been told by one of the bear coordinators. (“You don’t have to worry about the relocated bears.  They leave fairly quickly.”)

So why relocate?  These dedicated federal employees seem to spend a lot of their summer moving ‘bad’ bears here and there–from Jackson to the East Entrance, from Dubois to Cooke City, from Cody area back to Jackson–or they have the dirty and terrible job of euthanizing ‘problem’ bears.  Problem hardly ever means human/bear conflicts, but mostly cattle/sheep/horse/chicken conflicts or just too-darn-close-for-comfort conflicts.

We just have to begin to make a concerted effort to live with bears and give them more habitat.  A few things I can suggest (and there are many more that could be added to the list by people ‘in the know’):

1.  Use bear-proof garbage cans and food containers.  Several bears were euthanized in 2010 because of ‘food rewards’.  The article above said that after euthanizing a bear roaming around West Yellowstone, the feds discovered lots of unsecured food containers.  That’s just a crime!  West Yellowstone is exactly adjacent to the Park.  If you want to live there, secure your food or pay the consequences.  Should the bears pay the consequences for stupid people?

2.  We need contiguous wildlife corridors from here to the Canadian Border, with planned wildlife crossings over highways.  This is very important.  These bears and other wildlife need to be able to migrate out into other food sources when their own territories get too cramped.  And for God’s sake, at least slow down in Yellowstone.  This summer alone there were several bears killed by cars in the Park.

California is now putting the grizzly bear on all CDL.  If you hold your license up to the light, there’s a bear there; the same bear that’s on their flag and the exact same one that was shot to extinction in the early 1900’s.  If you’re going to tout it, then bring it back.  California has good habitat for grizzlies.  Let’s move some there.

3.  We need prairie where Grizzlies and Bison and wolves can roam again.  Grizzlies are already moving into eastern Montana.  Support the American Prairie Foundation and tell them to not just bring Bison back (already beginning to happen there) but wolves and grizzlies as well.  With the extinction of the White Bark Pine by the end of this next decade, bears will need a different food source.  We need to be thinking about recreating some of the kinds of habitat they lived in when Lewis & Clark were here.  L&C didn’t find game in the mountains; the game was abundant in the prairies.  Restoring bison to the prairies along with wolves makes for more game for grizzlies, along with all the small mammals and roots they like to dig for.

This summer I was fortunate enough to see three grizzlies–2 in the Park and the other one we slowed down while the bear crossed the road near here.  What a beautiful magnificent animal.  There is nothing like hiking in grizzly county, knowing that you are not at the top of the food chain.  It makes you alert, alive and aware.  Let’s preserve that.  It keeps our human ‘hubris’ in check.


Grizzly track with penny for sizing


2 Responses

  1. Very insightful article. These are indeed beautiful animals and deserve a place to live in safety. Thank you


  2. Yeah, good post. There is nothing like being in grizzly territory. My family and I were in Yellowstone the week of the Soda Butte attacks. I was incredibly happy to see a grizzly bear. We actually saw five counting cubs, even though they were far off in the valleys.


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