The grizzly bear. It is an animal that has not exactly had the cleanest of histories in the age of humans. They have been fear, hunted, discriminated against and had many an ugly run in with humans. However, in 1975, grizzly bears were granted some sort of respite. They were designated as a protected species under the ‘Endangered Species Act’ and their populations have since shown some kind of recovery. And where is one of the main hubs for this population recovery? Yellowstone National Park.
Since 1975, it is thought that grizzly numbers have increased from an estimated 136 to 700. Hooray for the grizzly! Or is it? Unfortunately, this apparent success brings with it some more ominous news for the grizzly bear. What is it? The possibility of being removed from the list of protected species and becoming fair game for keen hunters. Although hunting will remain prohibited within the boundaries of Yellowstone, the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana will be able to ‘manage’ the grizzly bear population through hunting. However, the idea of removing the grizzly from the Endangered Species Act is so controversial, that 58 experts have written to the federal government, asking them to re-think their position. Jane Goodall is one of the biggest names and main campaigners involved in keeping the grizzly bear protected and the argument put to the authorities has stated the threats to the grizzly and even disputed the ‘recovered’ population status of the bear. Although this debate has been going on for some time now, there has recently been a new development, which has dealt a bit of a blow to the protection campaign. For in the state of Montana, planning has already begun to hunt the grizzly and it has been revealed that $50 licenses are being offered to those who live in the state.
But what’s the issue? If populations have improved so much, then why do they still need protection? Well, the argument is that grizzly bears are still at threat from poor resource availability, with both their food supplies and habitats still being in a rather precarious position. The food resources that are most important to the bears include pine seeds, elk, trout and moths, all of which have decreased dramatically due to invasive species and climate change. Conservation scientists argue that the bear is still greatly in need of protection and that although the populations of the grizzly have improved, they are not out of the woods yet. This has unfortunately done little to deter hunting plans, with Wyoming also having already drawn up plans to allow for hunting. Any bears that stray from the boundaries of Yellowstone will once again find themselves up against an age old enemy: humans. Of course, these officials argue that hunting will do no damage to the bear populations (how so?) and that a lot of research has gone into making this decision. They argue that the population of grizzlies has entirely ‘recovered’ and that any threats they face are not significant enough to impact their large and ‘self-sustaining’ population. It’s a big statement to say the least.
But surely their de-listing is rather jumping the gun (pardon the pun). Indeed, over the past 15 years alone, deaths of grizzly bears have thought to have increased by 10% a year, and yet the plan is to add to these deaths through hunting! The apparent ‘thriving and self-sustaining populations’ of the grizzly does not look likely to remain so (if in fact it even exists now) if hunting is indeed given the go ahead. Even without hunting, there is the very real threat that there will be dramatic population decreases over the next 10 years or so.
The grizzly bear was once widespread throughout the USA and Canada, but they reached the brink of extinction due to the pressures of human settlement and hunting. Although the grizzly is still protected for now, illegal hunting of grizzlies is also still a problem. Only last year, the famous grizzly ‘Scarface’, named due to the scars on his face from various fights with other bears, was illegally shot on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. The move to take the grizzly bear off the protected list is a bold and controversial move and begs the question, is the US Fish and Wildlife Service more concerned about species conservation, or pleasing hunters? To allow the removal of protection status from a species who still faces prominent threats could be classed as irresponsible. Hunting of the grizzly bear was the very act that brought about their near extinction in the first place and now, we find ourselves discussing the possibility of them being once again subjected to hunting.
Sadly, it would seem that after hundreds of years of unrelenting hunting and a mere 41 years of protection, us humans have grown bored and we quite fancy a hunt again. Hopefully, the campaign to protect the grizzly will prevail, but for now all I can say is, sorry to our grizzlies, but sadly, it would seem that we humans are a fickle bunch indeed.
Sign the petition to keep grizzly bears protected- Keep Grizzly Bears Protected Under The Endangered Species Act
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