2016 Another Deadly Year for Yellowstone Grizzly Bears
According to the federal government, a total of 58 known and probable grizzly bear deaths occurred in 2016 (link), which nearly surpassed the jaw-dropping record set during 2015 (link). Further, these "known" and "probable" mortalities are not the whole story, simply because many bear deaths go unrecorded. When you apply an estimator that the federal government uses to account for this unknown mortality, about 75 bears or 11% of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has died in 2016.
As in 2015, this death rate is about twice what can be sustained. Importantly, the bear deaths of the last two years come after a decade during which the population didn’t increase, and probably declined (link).
The exponential increase in grizzly bear deaths that began in 2007 calls into question the wisdom of removing federal protections (“delisting”) and legalizing state-sponsored trophy hunting. It also raises questions about the deafening silence among government officials, to which there is actually an obvious answer. Admissions that Yellowstone grizzly bears still face severe threats could throw cold water on the government’s dogged push to delist bears.
The bottom line is that we can and must do better at reducing conflicts to keep bears alive and people safe. There is no shortage of commonsense measures. To recover the threatened grizzly, government officials need to approach the challenges with openness, honesty and compassion, rather the willful pursuit of a political agenda.
(Photo by Jeffrey Pang)
The States’ Agenda: Spinning the Facts to Justify Killing More Bears
The push to delist grizzly bears is rooted in an obsessive desire by the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana to wrest management control over bears from the federal government. The states want to trophy hunt grizzlies after delisting more as an ideological reaction against decades of federal control than for any scientifically-defensible reasons. They also want a free hand to kill more grizzlies without any accountability to the national public that treasures these bears…or even any accountability to the majority of state residents who don’t support hunting grizzlies.
Of all the players in this drama, Wyoming officials are proving themselves the worst kind of playground bullies (link). They are also leading a disturbing and aggressive campaign of disinformation about what is happening to Yellowstone’s iconic bears. In an article last year in the Jackson News and Guide, Brian Debolt of Wyoming Game and Fish asserted that: “We still have a growing grizzly bear population (link)” – a fact contradicted by the federal Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which keeps the official data.
Debolt also claimed that 2015 and 2016 figures do not represent “a significant amount of mortality that negatively affects the population” – even though last year the federal government’s threshold for allowable mortality of independent females was shattered and its estimate of total population size dropped significantly.
The point is that facts don’t matter to the states, which are trying to create an alternate reality by repeating a self-generated myth over and over again – one that justifies the states’ take-over of management from the federal government.
All who are concerned about the fate of grizzly bears should be deeply worried about delisting in the face of stunningly high mortalities as occurred in 2015 and 2016. In the end, the debate about delisting is about the relationship we choose with an animal that epitomizes the wildest nature we have left, and whether we want that connection to be characterized by dominance and violence, or coexistence and reverence.