Grassroots Fire in the Fight for Grizzlies
New fire is burning in the battle for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. Just three years ago, it appeared the government was going to ramrod the decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections without a whole lot of opposition. But, for many wildlife advocates, a sense of redoubled enthusiasm and commitment has replaced defeat and despair – with good reason.
Collectively, over 850,000 people have signed various petitions or submitted comments to US Fish and Wildlife Service opposed to stripping endangered species protections for the grizzly bear over the last year. More than 99% of the comments submitted on the delisting rule opposed delisting and supported stronger protections. About 125 Tribes are fighting delisting and trophy hunting too. More is happening in Canada too to save bears across the border. Taken together, this represents a force to be reckoned with.
A New Bear Spirit Movement
What happened during the last few years to shift the dynamics? I think it has to do with an increasing sense of personal intimacy with bears, and a recognition of our similarities and interconnectedness. A bear spirit movement?
The point is that multitudes of people come to places like Yellowstone and Grand Teton to see bears up close and personal, hopefully safely, many along the roadsides. And there are many who have never seen these bears in the flesh, but who resonate with the Great Bear, and who know how vulnerable they are to exploitation of their habitat, and to trophy hunting, and to heavy handed management by the states.
These opportunities for the multitudes to experience the joy of seeing grizzlies were largely made possible by a decision by the Park Service 20 years ago to no longer haze bears away from roads. These opportunities are also creating safe niches for momma grizzly bears, who are choosing to stay near roadsides in the company of people, in an effort to avoid aggressive male bears who potentially threaten their cubs. And the upshot is not just the immeasurable joy of park visitors, but also a real reciprocal relationship between people and bears.
This bear spirit movement is expressing itself politically primarily through social media—which takes me to Don’t Delist Grizzlies and their extended family. This Facebook group includes thousands of informed members who are passionately focused on stopping delisting (see more below). If you want to stay on top of the grizzly debate, check them out! They have the most current information, and enormous passion!
Don’t Delist Grizzlies is not the only social media power to rise out of Blaze’s tragic death. Of particular note is the work of Richard Spratley, an amateur photographer and outdoorsman who comes up to Yellowstone when he can, and works full time in manufacturing in Denver.
Here is what he says about himself: “Not only can I make a larger impact by reaching more and more people and fellow advocates, but I can also see and act on many more causes. I fight for all animals across the globe, but there is a special place in my heart for Grizzlies and Wolves that I may tend to put a little more effort into. When 760 was killed [he was a grandcub of the famous mother grizzly 399, killed senselessly by Wyoming Game & Fish two years ago], my advocacy game was brought to an entirely different level. I started to meet people and network with people and organization who were heavy hitters in this area. I started making much more of an impact and getting much more exposure. Although I wish I could put more time into it than I do, I feel great about what I do each and every day. Something is better than nothing!”
There is another social media group, Friends of 760 Grizzly Bear, who formed in response to that bear’s death, and who work to prevent similar outrages perpetrated by state wildlife managers. They too have taken on delisting. Their founders include health practitioner Cindy Campbell and poet Lyn Dalebout.
The point is that, for the most part, these are not people with advanced degrees in wildlife ecology, nor are they staff of a big NGO, nor people with a lot of spare time. These are people with other jobs, who are passionate and informed, and want to make a difference. And they have.
You can too!
Don’t Delist Grizzlies
Don’t Delist Grizzlies is a Facebook group that includes thousands of informed members who are passionately focused on stopping delisting (link). It was founded over a year ago in response to the killing in Yellowstone of “Blaze,” a grizzly bear mother of two cubs.
The group is run by four administrators, Michelle, Carole, Marianne and Mary. Michelle is a former attorney and a blogger, Carole and Marianne work in local government. Art administrator, Mary, designs the group’s graphics. While none of the administrators live in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, one hails from the region and others have visited. One other has never been but dreams of visiting one day. The team has cared passionately about wildlife for decades. Because the administrators cannot be on the ground, they use social media to reach out to one another and to like-minded people over the country. Indeed, Don’t Delist Grizzlies has attracted very active members domestically as well as international. According to the group’s bio, “When the delisting plan came out, we decided not to wait for someone else to stop it. Instead, we founded the Facebook group, Don’t Delist Grizzlies, with the sole purpose of advocating against the delisting of Yellowstone grizzlies. We felt that the group could help raise awareness, act as a hub for information and provide activists with tactics to try and stop the delisting. We have since expanded our focus to include all grizzlies threatened in the United States.”
This is a magical interview with an amazing man! Charlie Russell is a rancher, bear expert, film-maker and author, who has such a special personal way with bears that some call him a bear whisperer -- a honorific that he poopoo’s. Charlie has spent much of his life pioneering a different kind of compassionate and respectful relationship with bears and other wildlife, one he thinks is possible for all of us. Charlie has accomplished what many thought impossible, including raising tiny orphan cubs and releasing them successfully in the wild to flourish. Charlie’s decade in Russia’s Far East were high adventure, tracking poachers in his ultralight plane, and building a Russian ranger corps to protect bears and other wildlife. Charlie speaks to tragic deaths by bears of friends like Timothy Treadwell, and the threats to grizzly bears in Alberta and Yellowstone.
Jim and Heidi Barrett
If you are feeling depressed by the state of our nation, take hope and a few minutes to listen to the stories of two conservation heroes, Jim and Heidi Barrett. Jim and Heidi are long-time residents of Silver Gate MT, near Cooke City on the doorstep of Yellowstone Park. They raised their son in the company of grizzlies, moose, wolves, and other wonders of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. With modesty and courage, they took on – and won -- some of the biggest environmental threats facing their wild corner of the ecosystem. They were leaders in the epic battle to stop a gold mine from being built at the edge of Yellowstone Park; they worked to bring under control the escalating use of off-road vehicles; and they played a major role in improving sanitation systems in an area that had long been a “black hole for bears” because widely available garbage had caused so many bears to be killed.
Jim and Heidi Barrett are proof that a few people with big hearts and determination, can make an immeasurable difference for the wild, and all of us.
For more on Jim and Heidi and the efforts to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears around Cooke City, see my blog: http://www.grizzlytimes.org/single-post/2017/01/08/Trash-Talk-Cooke-City-Cleans-Up-Garbage-Saves-Bears