A Primer on Grizzly Bear Advocacy
The States: Of Killing and Domination
The Northern Rockies states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have enormous influence over grizzly bear management – even though they don’t manage wildlife in National Parks, or have ultimate authority over grizzly bear management, which is the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s purview. Unfortunately, these states are notoriously hostile to large carnivores, including grizzlies, wolves, mountain lions, and black bears.
This hostility arises for several reasons, including fiscal dependency on hunters and gun owners with deeply conservative attitudes, which, in turn, gives rise to management that prioritizes producing a “harvestable surplus” of big game such as deer and elk, and a related tendency to view predators as competitors for this “harvestable surplus.” Notably, hunters account for only around 4% of adults in the US and are disproportionately comprised of less-well-educated non-Hispanic white men who live in rural areas.
Greg Gianforte, at right, illegally shot a collared wolf held in a trap, and was elected Governor of Montana
State wildlife managers answer to commissions that are appointed by the governor of each state. As is the case with hunters, nearly all these wildlife agency commissioners are non-Hispanic white men who proudly proclaim their avid interest in hunting, if not membership in the National Rifle Association. Each state Commission conducts regular meetings — most now on zoom — that theoretically provide members of the public with limited opportunity to comment.
But, be forewarned, if you are not a resident of the state in question, you will be disregarded — even if you do have a chance to comment. And even if you are an in-state resident, commission meetings can be intimidating, especially if you are a woman, don’t hunt, or are a person of color. Odds are, if you fall into any of these categories, you will likewise be dismissed.
On a more positive note, state wildlife agencies do have dedicated and skilled people in positions devoted to non-lethally preventing and resolving human-grizzly bear conflicts. But the success of these specialists and the coexistence programs they implement is intrinsically limited by anti-carnivore polices promulgated by those who run state wildlife management agencies.
Problematic Mission and Orientation
The primary goal of state wildlife agencies is not to conserve all species and ecosystems, but, as we noted above, to produce a “harvestable surplus” of game animals comprised largely of large hooved herbivores with antlers or horns. States seek to minimize populations of large carnivores that they wrongly see as competing with hunters for game animals or as threats to livestock. Above all, they work to protect the interests of a minority of hunters, anglers, and trappers over the much larger majority of people who appreciate wildlife for aesthetic, scientific, and other reasons that involve respect of other sentient beings.
Gunning for Grizzlies
Since the early 1990s, state politicians and wildlife managers have pressed for removal of endangered species protections so they can fully control the fate of grizzlies, reduce the size of bear populations, and open a trophy hunt designed to give a handful of affluent white men the opportunity to hang a grizzly bear head on their wall. Environmental groups, including Grizzly Times, have fiercely opposed delisting because it would allow many more grizzlies to be killed and reverse the hard-fought progress towards recovery that has occurred during the last 40 plus years.
Even the celebrity grizzlies such as “399” of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, would not be spared. Recent petitions from the Governors of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho to the FWS to remove ESA protections for grizzlies and turn management over to the states underscore the continued hostility of state politicians towards bears and the people who care about their survival.
What the States Should Do
State politicians and the managers who operate at their behest should expand efforts to promote existence between people and grizzly bears, give conservationists and others who do not hunt seats on Commissions, and stop agitating for removal of ESA protections.
What You Can Do
This is an especially problematic arena to navigate if you are a grizzly bear advocate because of the biases built into the bones of state wildlife management, and the resistance by state officials to comments from people who live outside the state. For more background on the problem, see this essay by David.
But there are things you can do. The watchword is creativity, which requires experience or a willingness to reach out to and learn from veterans who have long worked in the arena of state politics and state wildlife management.
If you are from Wyoming, Idaho or Montana, and know of any friendly members on your state’s Commission, you can offer these Commissioners support in private or in opinion pieces in local media, and show up to testify in support of grizzlies at Commission meetings.
Connecting with and constructively supporting conflict management specialists who work for state agencies is also worthwhile, both as a means of encouraging their efforts, and also as a means of gaining information about what state managers are or are not doing.
There are numerous other creative ways that in-state residents have engaged in the past, including putting up pro-grizzly bear billboards, and buying up grizzly bear hunting licenses when they became available in Wyoming during the short-lived suspension of ESA protections during 2017.
In the long term, we need widespread public support of efforts to reform state wildlife management to make this institution more inclusive and representative. Perhaps the best way to do this is through involvement with and support of organizations such as Wildlife for All and Project Coyote that have made reform a centerpiece of their efforts.
Also, you can lend support to the courageous regional groups that are doing their best to improve carnivore management that include Wolves of the Rockies, Wyoming Untrapped, Footloose Montana, Trapfree Montana Public Lands, and The Cougar Fund.