A Primer on Grizzly Bear Advocacy
Private Lands: Conservation Opportunity or Mortality Sink?
Private landowners manage a small portion of grizzly bear habitat, but their lands often contain ecologically rich riparian areas and other important spring bear habitats. Not surprisingly, grizzlies die at disproportionally higher numbers on private lands because of poorly managed livestock, readily available attractants, and the intolerance of many landowners.
Commissioners and administrators in roughly 100 regional counties have responsibility for matters such as garbage management and availability of attractants on private lands in currently occupied or potential grizzly bear habitat. Unfortunately, only a few counties have strong ordinances limiting the availability of attractants, and fewer yet have the capacity to enforce the ordinances that do exist.
Members of the Blackfoot Challenge on a field trip
Even under the best of circumstances, county governments have a difficult time curbing the destructive behavior of landowners given the religious fervor with which many Americans assert private property rights. Even more problematic, for a host of political reasons the FWS is reluctant to enforce the ESA’s mandate to prohibit the harming of protected species that applies as much to private landowners as to public land managers.
Even so, numerous private landowners, land trusts, and private lands conservation groups are trying to do the right thing for grizzlies and other wildlife. Among these are truly inspiring collaboratives such as the Blackfoot Challenge, High Divide Initiative, and Tom Miner Basin Association that are working to improve coexistence between grizzlies and ranchers as well as other private landowners.
What Landowners & County Commissions Should Do
County Commissions need to enact more well-crafted ordinances to limit availability of garbage and other attractants and, moreover, provide resources to enforce and implement coexistence programs. Private landowners should ideally educate themselves about living in grizzly bear habitat, improve livestock husbandry, develop collaborative coexistence efforts, and take other precautions to keep attractants away from bears.
What You Can Do
Conservation of private lands is a delicate and often fraught arena because of sensitivities about private property rights. But there are several ways you can help.
If you live in a county that is considering food storage ordinances such Teton County in Wyoming or Flathead County in Montana, you should consider supporting their efforts.
There is always a need to speak out in support of efforts to coexist with bears and properly manage food and attractants by writing a Letter to the Editor or other opinion pieces in local media and on social media.
In addition, numerous groups specialize in private lands conservation and coexistence – and deserve your support, including Vital Ground, People and Carnivores, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Landowners Alliance, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Heart of the Rockies Initiative, Blackfoot Challenge, and Tom Miner Basin Association.