A Primer on Grizzly Bear Advocacy
U.S. Forest Service: Not So Green Giant
The Forest Service (FS) manages the lion’s share of grizzly bear habitat, putatively on behalf of all Americans. Unlike the Park Service, the FS is required by law to manage for “multiple uses,” meaning energy development, logging, grazing, wilderness, and recreation of all sorts. But unfortunately, the agency has been captured by the logging industry it was set up to regulate – and now increasingly by mountain bikers and users of off-road vehicles. The agency’s culture of exploiting forests contributes to a schizophrenic approach to grizzly bear management. And too often, the FWS gives the FS a green light to destroy habitat, precipitating litigation by conservation groups.
More positively, on forests that have long been occupied by grizzlies, managers have implemented policies to keep human attractants away from grizzlies, much as the National Parks have done. Even so, food storage orders have not been uniformly applied in areas occupied by grizzlies, which sets the stage for on-going human-bear conflicts. The agency is also extremely short staffed, and law enforcement is spotty, as exemplified by a situation on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest where a single officer covers well over one-million acres.
Leanne Marten, the pro-logging Region 1 Regional Forester. It is telling that the head of each Region in the Forest Service is still titled a "forester."
The Problem of Roads
Roads and logging on National Forests have been enormously controversial as the Forest Service churns out decision after decision authorizing construction of more roads and projects to log the last secure refuges of grizzly bears, even on forests such as the Kootenai where grizzlies are acutely threatened. Roads harm bears by fragmenting habitat and facilitating access by poachers. Although the Forest Service has put in place standards to limit the number and density of roads—some better, some worse—the agency continually seeks to weaken these standards. Perhaps surprisingly, this is still true under the Biden administration. Harmful logging projects continue to be promoted on the Kootenai, Nez Perce-Clearwater, Custer-Gallatin and other forests.
The Problem of Cows
Grazing by livestock on national forests has similarly been problematic for grizzlies. In the wake of losing key native foods, grizzlies have been increasingly seeking out livestock to compensate. Although some ranchers work hard to accommodate grizzlies (see this), others do not. Wyoming’s upper Green River allotments on the Bridger-Teton NF are witness to the greatest concentration of grizzly bear deaths in Greater Yellowstone – almost all because of notoriously anti-carnivore ranchers in the area who see grazing on public lands as a “right” rather than a privilege.
What the Forest Service Should Do
The Forest Service should protect all roadless lands; establish strong limits on road densities elsewhere; put in place food storage policies throughout areas occupied by grizzlies; eliminate grazing allotments in areas with high levels of grizzly bear-rancher conflict; and increase law enforcement and other field staff.
What You Can Do
The Forest Service is a massive, sprawling bureaucracy that is hard for a lay person to navigate. Its planning documents are typically long and often impenetrable. Unfortunately, the agency has largely abandoned any conservation ethic it might have had and routinely promotes terrible timber sales, grazing policies, and forest plans. In this bleak arena, litigation is increasingly the name of the game. Many conservation-oriented rangers and supervisors have been purged or have left in recent years, and few champions for wild nature remain in leadership positions. But, on the positive side, the agency does have good people on the ground and considerable expertise in coexistence.
If you are interested in and have the capacity to engage with policy-making arcana and scientific details, there is always a need for more people to make substantive comments on site specific projects and plans – mostly to help environmental lawyers in their litigation efforts. This is especially valuable if you are familiar with the landscape.
There is also a need for comments on harmful Forest Service projects and plans in Letters to the Editor or other opinion pieces in local media; on social media; or in communications to members of Congress who are engaged with grizzly bear conservation. And, if you know of conservation-minded forest officials, they need your support.
Because forest issues tend to be very complex, you might consider supporting one of the organizations that specialize in National Forest policy and fight for grizzly bears. You can find contact information for specific groups in this Alert on the need for protecting grizzly bear habitat on Forest Service lands.