A Primer on Grizzly Bear Advocacy
National Park Service: The White Hats, Mostly
Many people think that grizzlies are managed primarily by the National Park Service within the confines of National Parks. But that is not true. Most critical grizzly bear habitat lies outside of National Parks. Even so, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier Parks have authority over an important but small portion of the landscape where grizzlies live – and where they need to live to flourish.
With a preservation mission, National Park managers often do a great job keeping grizzlies and humans safe. They have instituted strong rules and educational programs designed to keep grizzlies from having access to human foods – and from being killed as a consequence. But education and other conservation programs that promote prevention of human-grizzly bear conflicts and increased understanding of grizzly bears have suffered from budget cuts during recent years.
The Park Service has been overwhelmed by an influx of visitors during recent years. Rangers are increasingly challenged by stupid people doing stupid things around bears. In response, some rangers are hazing and harassing grizzlies rather than improving management of people. Hazing is only temporarily effective at best and harmful at worst (See this Report by David). And Park managers in the region have been loath to limit visitation, which is desperately needed not only to protect grizzly bears, but all other Park resources as well.
Elk Hunting in a Park, Really?
Grand Teton Park allows elk to be hunted because of a politically-motivated clause in the law that expanded the park in the 1950s. This hunt is particularly problematic for grizzlies. During the fall, hungry grizzlies seek out the remains of elk shot by hunters, which lures them into areas overrun with well-armed men often ready to shoot a grizzly in presumed self-defense. Hunters have gunned down multitudes of grizzlies on National Forest lands under similar circumstances. In Teton Park this dynamic puts celebrity bears such as 399 at grave risk. The threat is real – and incompatible with the Park Service mandate to “Preserve and Protect.”
What the Parks Should Do
The National Park Service should expand naturalist programs to better educate visitors, establish limits on use in parks, stop hazing grizzlies, and stop the elk hunt in Grand Teton Park.
What You Can Do
The National Park Service is a friend of the bear, but needs support to tackle today’s challenges, especially those of overuse. Three national parks with grizzly bears are group zero for this challenge: Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
You can help by asking the Park Service to hire more ranger naturalists to better educate visitors. And you can ask Grand Teton Park to expand its volunteer Bear Brigade that helps the agency educate park visitors about bears and also ensure that visitors behave appropriately. Managing people is a more effective and compassionate means of preventing human-bear conflicts than is hazing grizzlies (see this report by David for more details). If you have visited these parks recently, you will have seen the problems of overcrowding firsthand, and perhaps even grizzlies being hazed. It is helpful to include details of your experience in your letter to park superintendents, or in letters to the editor and social media.
The idea of setting limits on park use is a political hot potato. Park Service officials need to know that you have their backs and support the idea of limiting park visitation to protect the parks and the wildlife these landscapes support.
Developing personal relations with park officials can also be helpful. The Park Service employs a lot of good-hearted people who are trying to do the right thing under difficult circumstances. They need your support.