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Should We Hunt Grizzly Bears?

by David Hart   |  November 21st, 2011 20

Grizzly bearA Nevada hunter was the third person harmed by a grizzly bear this year, prompting some to ask if it’s time to start hunting them. Steve Stevenson was mauled after he and friend Ty Bell were tracking the wounded bear Bell mistook for a black bear near the Montana-Idaho border in September. Two hikers were killed by grizzly bears in separate incidents in Yellowstone National Park last summer. In addition to those fatalities, reports of nuisance bears have increased dramatically in recent years. Over a hundred grizzlies in the Yellowstone region have been killed by hunters acting in self-defense, by state or federal officials removing problem animals, or by vehicles in the last three years alone.

Montana Outfitter and Guide Association Executive Director Mac Minard says the recent fatalities and the increase in nuisance complaints shouldn’t be the driving force behind a grizzly bear hunt. Instead, he says bears should be hunted because they are a renewable resource with a proven track record of sound management behind them.

“Why not hunt them?” says Minard. “Management in the form of hunting can certainly have a beneficial effect on reducing problems, but I don’t think that should be the primary reason for opening a season on grizzlies. They should be hunted because they are a renewable resource, and state wildlife agencies and the federal government have done a good job managing bears and other wildlife species under their control.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Threatened and Endangered Species Section Manager Lori Hanauska-Brown agrees that hunting can help reduce bear-human conflicts if it is done properly. That includes focusing hunting pressure on the animals in areas where nuisance complaints and livestock depredation are highest.

“Hunted populations tend to behave better, so to speak. They could become

conditioned to avoid humans much more so than they are now if they were hunted,” says Hanauska-Brown.

But will it actually happen? Minard and Hanauska-Brown believe it will, although not in the immediate future. In fact, Montana is poised to open a season pending the

removal of grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List (ESL). So is Wyoming. But bears will likely be a political and legal hot-potato just as wolves were.

“It gets complicated when you discuss the Greater Yellowstone Area population because three different states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) are involved in any management decisions,” says Hanauska-Brown. “In the case of the Northern Continental Divide population (around Glacier National Park), it’s much easier because it does not involve any other state. Hunting is certainly one part of the management discussion.”

Removed, Then Relisted
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) placed grizzly bears in the Lower 48 on the ESL in 1975, giving the animals full protection. There were just a few hundred then and they occupied just 2 percent of their historic range. Since, the number of grizzlies has increased steadily, growing by more than 4 percent annually in the Greater Yellowstone population where about 600 animals now live. Bears in that region were removed from the ESL in 2007, and management was

slated to be turned over to Wyoming,

Montana, and Idaho. That was thwarted, however, when the Greater Yellowstone Coalition filed a suit to block the delisting. The Coalition claimed the USFWS did not consider the decline in white bark pine trees, an important food source of grizzlies, in its recovery plan. Wyoming is one of several parties involved in a suit to overturn the bear’s relisting, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is awaiting the removal of grizzlies from the ESL. When they are, a hunting season will be in the works, says WGFD spokesman Eric Keszler.

“It has always been our position that hunting is a viable management tool under two conditions: if there is a surplus of bears and as a way to help reduce conflicts with humans,” he says. “According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, grizzly bears are recovered in the Yellowstone region.”

There are six distinct subpopulations in the contiguous United States, including one in north-central Washington, which has fewer than 20 bears, and the Bitterroot

region of Idaho, which, according to USFWS biologists, has no grizzlies. Populations are also small in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and the Cabinet-Yaak area of northern Idaho and western Montana, the area where Stevenson was attacked in September.

Bears in other regions, however, continue to multiply and have met the goals for removal from the ESL, says Hanuaska-Brown. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found grizzly bears have expanded their range in the Northern Continental Divide population by 2.5 million acres since 1993. There are an estimated 765 animals, the largest of the six subpopulations. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Area are also expanding their range, with sightings in areas where the bears haven’t been seen in decades.

“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ that have to be addressed before we can start the process of using hunting as a management tool. There will also be a fairly lengthy public comment period,” she says.

That means animal rights groups will likely fight any notion of a hunting season, no matter how limited or carefully managed. Despite their recovery and removal from the Endangered Species List, wolves continue to be subject of heated battles and ongoing lawsuits filed by environmentalists and anti-hunters. Hanauska-Brown expects a similar fight with grizzly bears.

  • applepickers

    Why not wait a few more years until more peopled are killed before a season is brought back.Most game commissions are worried about what the public will say instead of making the right calls.

    • GK Price

      true enough but the tide is swinging toward common sense and there are enough judges out there who are not liberal "stupids" and who are willing to stand for intelligence for a change !

  • jhjimbo2

    The numbers of Grizzly Bears seems small in the overall scheme of things. I doubt reducing the numbers further will change the random attacks. Steve Stevenson was attacked in an area known to have very low number of Bears.
    IMHO i say let the Bears be and educate those that share the area to be more aware and better protected
    against an attack by a Bear or any other aggressive animal for that matter.

    • GK Price

      give us a break ??? and let "game management" be done by game managers

  • Larry Holland

    If I get a chance YES I WILL due my age & condition in future will not let me. The numbers are starting to increase on male bears & they are like 20 year olds in many ways–defending their territories.
    They will hunt you: Sooner or later they will hunt around homes & forget dogs & cats ;then go to small children.

  • jhjimbo2

    .

  • David

    It is time for game departments to do the job they are being paid to do, and that is to manage wildlife. If people are not paying for the conservation or care of any species their voice should be declared null and void. Hunters pay for the game so our voices should carry more weight in the decision than any others.

    • GK Price

      Thank you David for a side of the argument that was well spoken !!!

    • applepickers

      The others have more votes than us, and that is why the game departments do what they do.

  • Scott

    First, let me say that I am a hunter. I only hunt things that I can eat. I have a hard time with hunting anything soley as a trophy. I also have a hard time with us shooting nuisance animals. I hear the same thing everytime a bear or big cats gets shot. They always say that the animal lost its fear of humans. I find that extremely arrogant on our part, who says they should be afraid of us. Would you mess with a human that was bigger,stronger, and faster than you? Usually these attacks occur because we are in their territory. Should 'nt we be the ones with enough sense not to go messing with them. If some came into your house, would you react the same way. Just my two cents worth.

    • GK Price

      what I find "extremely arrogant" is when another tries to speak in my stead, especially when they don't know a thing about what they are speaking out about !!! if you don't hunt what you don't eat then be that as it may and more power to ya BUT leave my morals and beliefs to ME , Thank you very much !!!

  • Wesley

    I live in Central Wyoming and had hunted S of the Yellowstone area for several years. Areas that we used to spend time in growing up no longer allow overnight camping due to the presence of a large population of grizzlies. I have a young family now and consider it too great a risk to hunt in that area due to an overpopulation of grizzlies that have been conditioned to treat gunshots as dinner bells and have absolutely no respect for human presence. The population has been recovered for years now, however, the "absentee landlords" who have no impact placed on their lives by these animals continue to dictate to those of us who are impacted. Elk, deer, and antelope are hunted every year and managed by the States. Why do the grizz and the wolves needed to be treated differently? It sure seems like an abundance of anti-hunting sentiment disguised in "conservation clothing" to me.

    • bob funk

      You are so right sir–why should a person go to jail unless he shows evidence of being mauled to protect himself OR his sheep &cattle—may your voice heard
      one wolf this year made it all the way into central west Oregon.Griz will wander—if they are to be viewed inside the parks fine-but let those which wander be managed by the people who know them–why are they growing without white pine nuts then??

  • GK Price

    Here in Oregon "PC" has taken over the "job" that common sense used to do … the Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife, contrary to what you might have been told or heard, is PRO WOLF – Now you may not get quite that answer if you ask at one of their "town hall" meetings but as a fulltime volunteer I had my ass chewed out but good for speaking "ill" about wolves in Oregon and afterwards I was told by the guys who do the work that "it is what it is" and they don't dare to voice their opinions or true feelings – So now we come to the crossroads when there are enough grizzlies to manage some hunts and there have been more than enough unprovoked attacks and unsolicited confrontations to easily warrant hunts in the "problem" areas so …. let the lawsuits begin !!! and to hell with all these "bunny huggers" most of who wouldn't know a forest trail from a strip mall …

  • GK Price

    Careful Wes ! common sense talk like that will get you hate mail !!!

  • Miller

    Sorry all. Born and raised around the giants…We're all experts until we see the animals, then everything changes. I've fished and hunted around them for my entire life and have never had a problem. Maybe I'm the exception?

  • Bob Funk

    If they are to be viewed in the parks fine–but the wanderers need managed-a wolf made it 700plus miles to central west Oregon this year–bears will wander–if the white pine nuts are down why are the bears increasing…..its also $13-25000 to hunt the ones farther north with guides-if you cant sleep in their territory maybe they need to be preconditioned by hunting quotas as before when 25 were managed well in Montana before

  • bill padgett Idaho

    A north Idaho man Shot one climbing up his hog pen fence while His children were playing outside. He called authorities and still ended up in court with a fine. Bullcrap Personal safety on my property comes b4 any 4 legged. animal.I have a Nevada guys brought that tragedy on thmselves. very unfortunate I feel for all involved. when you hunt in there turf you better do your home work first, or stay home.

  • SAm

    YES

  • Edward Wright

    How did all the anti-hunters get on this blog? I might be fooled by some of the comments, but this smells like a anti-hunters convention.
    To the IDIOT who thinks that everything is fine with the grizzly in the lower 48.
    Let me educate you. Grizzly bears, bears in general, have been scientifically measured to have 2.5 times the intelligence of the canine.
    Can a dog learn?? Quickly sunshine………..whats the answer………….YES
    Now measure that canine 2.5 times more intelligent. Can it gain understanding of human activity? Can it be comfortable with human presence? And now the big one……….Can it assume it is Alpha dominant to man? Quickly sunshine……………whats the answer………I know it’s science. but…………..YES
    All the above are merely the abilities of the average canine. Even if the study done was flawed ANY increase in intelligence by bears would make them more advesarial. Yes they have learned gunshots mean gut piles, Yes, they have assumed alpha dominence in their enviroment due to loss of fear to man in those areas.
    And, yes they have reached population numbers beyond the habitat confines. Brown bears in Kodiak have killed deer hunters over the same “gunshot” behavior.
    Grizzly bears are fast learning Alpha predators, and to give them any less than equal lethality is STUPID. The time for population control of Grizzly in the lower 48 is long over due. Campers, and hikers are in constant danger in the Rockies, and no parent should even risk camping in grizzly territory with children.
    Oh and the “expert” comment, well Timothy Treadwell thought he was an expert too!

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