Grizzly bears have been in the news a lot. On August 13 a seasonal employee, Lance Crosby, was hiking a short loop trail by Lake in Yellowstone National Park when he was attacked, killed, and partially consumed by a female grizzly with two cubs. Although Crosby was 1. off-trail and 2. not carrying bear spray, there is absolutely no need to blame the hiker. Possibly even with bear spray Crosby might not have survived or prevented an attack, especially if he came upon the bear at extremely close range.
A grizzly bear was recently rummaging around trash for food just five miles north of Cody. Since the bear had been moved for breaking into trash before, this bear was euthanized. People were talking about how close to town the bear was.
Heart Mountain, a prominent feature outside the Cody area, has been seeing more bears than ever this year–something like 5 grizzlies have been spotted on the mountain. Heart Mountain was part of grizzly bears native original habitat and where one of the last bears was killed in the early 1900s.
A recent headline in the Billings Gazette states that more livestock was killed by bears in Montana than in 2014.
All this news comes on the heels of the USF&W preparing to announce whether they are going to delist the bear this year. These kinds of headlines puts bears in the crosshairs. But let’s take a breath and consider the whole picture.
The states have been putting a lot of pressure on the feds for quite a while to delist. There will be a lot of money in tags for grizzly bear hunts and the states, already experiencing declining revenue with decreased hunters, are itching for those dollars. One writer writes in the Enterprise “Grizzly Bear attacks will continue as long as species remain protected”. But what does that mean? Dead bears are taught a lesson? Grizzly bears are normally solitary animals except for moms with cubs. Unlike wolves who might see pack members killed by hunters, bears will just be dead without bear company to learn from. Black bears are hunted and I still see them. In fact, in Wyoming, black bear baiting is legal in most areas. Does baiting bears mean live bears will no longer seek human garbage? Of course not.
If grizzlies are delisted, we’ll see images such as this one
This article in the Cody Enterprise sums up the arguments for and against delisting pretty well. Pro delisting: bears are above the delisting quota of 550 (officially the present count is 756 but it seems that the numbers being thrown around liberally are 1000 bears. Bears are hard to count because they are solitary) and it’s time. Although Whitebark pines are 90% dead in the ecosystem, bears are creative and can find other food sources. Con delisting: Those numbers are not accurate because bears are moving farther out looking for other food sources as their primary fall fattening-up food, pine nuts, is diminished. Climate change is unpredictable as to what will be happening with the ecosystem’s food sources, and so bears need to be able to have connective corridors to roam north–for food and for genetic connectivity. The delisting plan does not account for connectivity but confines grizzlies to a virtual zoo in the GYE PCA.
I have several thoughts here:
Just looking at this year’s fall foods for bears, we’ve had strange weather. Lots of spring rains instead of snows made for good grass for ungulates, but a poor berry crop. My chokecherries are having the worst crop since I’ve been living here for 10 years and I’ve noticed the huckleberry, buffalo berries and raspberry crops are very poor. In addition, there are almost no cones on my limber pines, an alternative crop when Whitebark crops are poor. The transects done this year on the Whitebark pine crop indicates a poor year according to Dustin Lasseter, who spoke with me at a Landowner’s meeting in early August. He’d accompanied the IGBT checking a transect. The 2015 report will be available here when published.
According to Doug Peacock, around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the most important fat-containing foods for bears in the fall are moths and whitebark pine nuts. Boar bears will eat more meat than females, as they are able to displace females and younger bears. Fat is essential for hibernation. Without whitebark, or the limber pine nut to substitute (Limber pine nuts are smaller, but nutritious and high in fat. They are stolen from squirrel middens just as the whitebark nuts are), where are these bears going to get enough fall fat?
Chris Servheen, the biologist who helped bring the bear back from the brink says ““Bears will tend to move around more, looking for alternative foods, and movement usually increases conflicts”. But Servheen goes on to say:
Even with a poor berry crop, however, Servheen said grizzly diets can include hundreds of different foods, so the bears still have plenty of options available. While huckleberries can provide an easy source of calories as the bears begin to fatten up for their winter sleep, they will also find roots, tubers, moths, ants, hornet nests and a variety of other berries such as those from hawthorn and mountain ash.
According to Peacock, none of these can substitute for fat-rich pine nuts in the GYE.
But whitebark pine in the Yellowstone park area is nearly gone: No amount of science or management will bring the trees back in our lifetime. With whitebark pine nuts eliminated from grizzly bear diets — and this seems to be the case — grizzlies in this island ecosystem will be severely stressed. The bears could be on their way out.
Second, as Peacock says in the linked article above, bears will need room to roam to connect with alternative food sources as well as linkage to other bears. This one issue addressed may save, in the long run, the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
Third, people and bears can co-exist and it is up to us humans to make that effort. In short, that means protecting food sources such as chickens, grain, and human garbage. The bear that had to be killed near Cody was trash adapted. Maybe those residences never expected a bear that close, but it’s time we all did. Take for instance the black bears of the California Sierras. They have completely changed their habits because backpackers are now required to use a bear canister. If you don’t, then a ticket is issued. Bear canisters can even be rented for next to nothing from the Park or Forest Service in the Sierras.
Cattle and sheep that are on Forest Service allotments in sensitive bear corridors of the GYE, such as the Green River basin, should be reduced in herd size or eliminated, and a range rider needs to be with them. Those animals lost to bears are already being compensated at 3 times market value.
Lastly, we need new stories about bears, not just horror stories. We need to re-imagine what it’s like living with this awesome creature and realize we are blessed to live in the last remaining place in the lower 48 where these bears still exist–less than 2% of their former range. We can give them at least that little bit. We’ve spent the last forty years restoring their population–from 125 bears to around 750 bears. Delisting the bear at this critical juncture is too premature, as we are just starting to feel and understand the forces of climate change. Once delisted, hunting will take place. Hunting an animal as smart as the Great Apes just for trophy is close to a crime. The world was up in arms over trophy hunting a lion named Cecil in Africa. Why would this magnificent animal be so different?
Young grizzly bear
Filed under: Bears | Tagged: Bears, Delisting grizzlies, Grizzly bears, Yellowstone National Park Grizzlies | 2 Comments »