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Grizzly Hunting is Trophy Hunting

In this op-ed, a former Yellowstone park ranger turned independent grizzly bear researcher writes that states will institute grizzly bear hunting if grizzlies lose protection under the Endangered Spec

This summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may hand over management of grizzly bears to the states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Mike Bader says this is a dangerous decision for grizzlies. Here. a grizzly sow on the move in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Ben Bluhm
This summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may hand over management of grizzly bears to the states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Mike Bader says this is a dangerous decision for grizzlies. Here. a grizzly sow on the move in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Ben Bluhm
CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Montana does not require hunters to save meat harvested from black bears. It has been corrected below to state that Montana does require black bear meat to be saved on the quarters above the hocks and the backstrap. Wyoming and Idaho do not require black bear meat to be harvested and Wyoming classifies black and grizzly bears as "trophy game," meaning there is no requirement to harvest the meat. 

by Mike Bader

A final decision on the petitions to remove the grizzly bear from the list of threatened species and the protections of the Endangered Species Act (delisting) may come in June or early July. Currently, authority over grizzly bear management is vested in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the petitions are approved, management will be turned over to the states.

Both Montana and Wyoming would have trophy hunts for grizzly bears. Wyoming would begin immediately and Montana in five years. Idaho has the smallest portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem but would also immediately hunt as many grizzlies as allowed. And what would stop the politicians once they’ve achieved control over the bears?

Keep in mind: grizzly bear hunting is trophy hunting. There is little subsistence hunting for bears in the Lower 48. People rarely eat bear meat though Montana hunting regulations require black bear hunters to save meat on the quarters above the hocks and the backstrap. To the contrary, hunters of elk, deer and other species can be fined if they waste the meat. Grizzly bear hunting is for the trophy and the thrill of shooting a grizzly bear.

Montana might use private citizens to remove bears with a history of management or habituation. This is not hunting. Since most bears with a management history are radio-collared, hunters might be directed to the bear’s location. This is not ethical or fair chase, nor would it be allowed for any other animal.
If you oppose the trophy hunting of grizzly bears then you must also oppose removing the grizzly bear from the protections of the Endangered Species Act because that would immediately enable unsustainable trophy hunting.
The states also intend to arbitrarily limit where grizzly bears may be, even in excellent habitat on public lands such as the Missouri Breaks with over 1 million acres of public lands and Wilderness. Hunting tags may be issued in specific areas to limit grizzly bear distribution to Wilderness and national parks, which are not large enough to support viable populations. It’s the antithesis of wildlife habitat connectivity.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks earned a reputation as being the leading state wildlife management agency in the U.S. and has been highly trusted by the public. Unfortunately, political interference is tarnishing this reputation. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission once had professional biologists as members including chairs Dr. Gary Wolf and Dr. Bob Ream. No more. There is not a single biologist on the commission, whose members are all appointed by the governor.

Moreover, the Legislature enacted a number of laws governing wildlife management that retired FWP biologists and others have warned are extreme, unsporting and threaten stable populations of wildlife. This pervasive influence led FWP to produce a statewide management plan for grizzly bears that reads like a trophy hunting manual. Montana has offered many justifications for trophy hunting grizzly bears but has presented few if any for not doing it.

The political override of state biologists is affecting Montana’s wildlife heritage from elk on down the line. In Wyoming the Cody Roberts wolf torture episode, which Wyoming Fish and Game sat on for five weeks, further erodes confidence in state management of carnivores and predators. Idaho has also enacted draconian rules for wolf trapping, snaring and hunting that allow multiple bounty payments and year-round trapping with a goal of drastic population reductions. Trust must be re-earned and that takes time.

If you oppose the trophy hunting of grizzly bears then you must also oppose removing the grizzly bear from the protections of the Endangered Species Act because that would immediately enable unsustainable trophy hunting. Relisting a species is almost unheard of and takes much time that the grizzly bear does not have.

There is no ordinary hunting of grizzly bears. It is trophy hunting plain and simple. Please consider contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tell them no to delisting and no to trophy hunting grizzly bears. Visit regulations.gov and in the search box, enter FWS-R6-ES-2022-0150, which is the docket number for this action.

Mike Bader is a former ranger at Yellowstone National Park and a wildlife consultant in Missoula, Montana. He has authored several papers on grizzly bears in peer-reviewed journals.

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