Friday, April 29, 2016

Take Note, Take Action

All the details of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rulemaking to delist Yellowstone region grizzly bears are here:!documentDetail;D=FWS-R6-ES-2016-0042-0001

Look for the blue COMMENT NOW button in the upper right corner, and USE IT before May 10, which I take to mean NO LATER THAN MAY 9. Last count, pro and con comments were about equal in number. If you oppose grizzly delisting in the Yellowstone region, don't miss this chance to make your rationale known. I strongly recommend this means, instead of, or at least in addition to, signing on-line petitions and sending form letters, which carry far less impact.
Delisting grizzly bears is extremely contentious issue, as there is a strong, vocal contingent, mostly those who live in the area who are directly impacted by the outcome of the proposal, that favors delisting. While many are eager to shoot down grizzly bears, for any number of motives, the lives and livelihoods of others are disturbed by the bears that, for example, raid their sheds for the food stored in them, or, occasionally, or worse, habitually, take down a calf or a lamb for an easy meal. Those opposed to delisting include thousands in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and other impacted geographies but also around the world. It is also highly politically charged. And while there were Public Comment forums hosted in Bozeman (north of Yellowstone) and Cody (west of Yellowstone) there was no hearing in Jackson, Wyoming, where Grand Teton National Park, with its spectacular grizzly families (including 399 about whom I’ve often written here) are so prominent.  Additionally, since the fate of grizzly bears either way has enormous impact on these national parks and the vast acres of national forest surrounding them, together comprising the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, it’s stunning to contemplate that Fish and Wildlife has consulted or coordinated the delisting plan with either agency. Nor were the numerous Indian tribes for whom the grizzly is of great spiritual importance involved in the plan.
Those who read this blog regularly already know where I stand.
Below is the essay-comment I submitted (using the blue button) to the US Fish and Wildlife Service on April 26. Out of a lot of possible arguments I chose a tack that's a little different from most others (but that's the way I am, you knew that). In retrospect I wish I'd put the punch line – that the high cost of undoing the deleterious effects of delisting, which I contend will be necessary, needs to be taken into account –at the top as well as at the bottom, since it's the only part that is germane to public policy. 
I strongly oppose removal of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region from the protections of the Endangered Species Act.  From Europeans’ earliest accounts, grizzlies have been touted as preternaturally robust, nearly indestructible creatures; even retiring US Fish and Wildlife Service bear coordinator Chris Servheen describes them as “…a tough, resilient animal” but, importantly, adds, “that can thrive if given a fair chance.” (  As a long-time observer of bears and their circumstances in the Yellowstone region (where I live), I can vouch that the operative phrase is “if given a fair chance,” and that delisting will certainly deny them this key survival factor.  While numbers may have arrived at the point where statistical analysis predicts self-sustaining population levels, in reality, without protection, they will not have that chance.  As their habitat is squeezed and fragmented by human activity and increasingly degraded by climate change at the same time their reproductive success is further compromised by hunting, they will reveal how utterly fragile, vulnerable, and short-lived they in fact are. Climate change is not in our short-term control; protecting  grizzly bears by maintaining their endangered status (and other means such as public education in bear safety and the use of bear dogs to guard livestock) is.
A good grizzly population in the Yellowstone region improves the human condition. Watching bears as they go about their lives is precious opportunity for people of every ilk to be taught lessons of exceptional value. Unlike on TV, personally witnessing a  bear (or wolf, or peregrine falcon, or bob cat) hunting and consuming prey ingrains an understanding and acceptance of the circle of life, which in turn informs the *meaning  of life* for thoughtful people; in fact I would venture that such experiences are among those that make  people thoughtful. From the drama of a grizzly sow taking a newborn elk to feed her cubs comes deeper intellectual and emotional appreciation of the principle that life requires death, but death begets life. Is this a no-brainer?  A friend who taught middle school in inner city Baltimore tells me that her students were genuinely surprised to learn that their favorite hamburger lunch necessitated the death of a cow.  Would that all of these kids could spend a week or two in Yellowstone!
One might respond that hunting, which will be allowed if the bear is delisted, teaches the same things. And I would agree, except when hunting is not motivated by, and does not culminate in, the acquisition of food. Grizzly bears are not hunted for their meat; that of elk and deer is more palatable to most people and considerably less difficult to acquire. Instead the big bears are taken as trophies to be taxidermied into a reminder of the “lesson“ that if a living thing is extraordinary,  beautiful, rare, dangerous and powerful, the way to enjoy it is to take its life away, incidentally also preventing everyone else from appreciating that thing in constructive ways. This ethic is not nearly as good for regional  economies as is the presence of (in this area) millions of tourists, photographers, scientists, teachers and students, merchants, and the many others who relish being in the presence of these extraordinary, living beings and the other awe-inspiring and instructive features of Yellowstone and the Tetons of which bears are an integral part.
Given the environmental and human-related factors working against them, delisting grizzly bears will likely result in rapid  declines of this highly humanistically and economically valuable resource. Additionally, as has been amply documented, ecosystems change when populations of predators such as grizzlies are reduced or removed, generating cascades of unintended, unwanted, consequences. When the polity ultimately recognizes this, how many public and private dollars will be required to undo the damage, if it is still even possible to do so, in the future?
Grizzly bear 399, Grand Teton National Park