|Photo from a hunting-guide service called the "Grizzinator."|
We should manage bears like bears, not deer and elk. Deer and elk evolved as prey; they produce high numbers of fawns and calves because they feed a lot of animals above them on the food chain, including many of us humans who hunt. Grizzlies evolved as predators; they don’t produce a lot of cubs. Their populations are tenuously self-regulating (something we should learn from them). We should manage them accordingly.
We should manage grizzlies in a manner best for the bears; we should manage them based on science, ethics and social desires; we should manage them to allow for the space they need and deserve; we should manage them by improving people's knowledge of grizzlies and how to best prevent conflicts; we should manage them by allowing them the benefit of the doubt and erring on the side of caution; we should manage them by giving "troubled" bears every chance we can, and we should manage them by occasionally (as a last resort), killing certain individual bears if they become a socially unacceptable danger.
Who will pay for this? The American people should, all of us, because a huge majority of Americans want, support and appreciate that we still have wild grizzlies and the wild places to sustain them. Most Americans are fascinated with grizzlies, a fascination that has existed since humans drew pictures of them on rocks. Grizzlies are different. Myth, fear, awe, reality, science . . . all of it and more always has and always will influence the powerful mystique and perception of grizzlies.
For a long time we killed them. We killed them to near extinction. (Some subspecies are extinct, existing now only in our imaginations or places like the California flag.) I assume most Americans agreed with such a policy, until leaders like Theodore Roosevelt came along. We’ve winnowed them down to a tiny fraction of the once-immense territory they historically roamed. I suspect all people with empathy and compassion in their hearts are saddened by this. They should be. I am.
Most Americans respect grizzlies. Most Americans will not accept or tolerate the killing of grizzlies for trophies, amusement and ego. Most Americans feel disgusted to see hunters proudly standing over dead bodies of a once-powerful living presence they killed for no legitimate, no acceptable justification. I’m one of those Americans, and I’m a hunter.
When I kill an elk or deer, I feel grateful, humbled and saddened but happy to be part of the wilds -- to kill my own meat in a respectful, ethical, sustainable way. Nonhunters I know understand and support that. They accept hunters killing deer and elk to fill freezers; they don’t accept hunters killing grizzlies to fill egos.
We should not manage grizzlies to boost numbers of prey species so we have more to kill. (I’ve heard fellow hunters say that we need to kill elk and deer to keep populations in check, but we need to kill predators to boost the number of animals we need to kill to keep their numbers down.) We should not kill grizzlies to raise money to protect them.
That is not wildlife management based on good, sound science or social acceptability.
Predators are rarely managed based on sound science or for the benefit of predators and healthy, functioning ecosystems. They’re rarely managed in accordance of what a majority of Americans accept. Hunters and anglers pay the bills through licenses and excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear and (along with governor-appointed commissioners) have lopsided power and influence over how wildlife is managed. As a result, wildlife management often leans more towards animal husbandry – producing more to catch and shoot sometimes to the detriment of other wildlife. Predators usually get a bad deal.
We’re stuck in a wildlife-management paradigm that attempts to justify indefensible death; it’s time for change.
All Americans should help pay for and influence how wildlife is managed. We don’t need to sell grizzly-tags to fund the management of grizzlies. Let’s get an excise tax on all outdoor gear – not just hunting and fishing equipment. Let’s create a license for nonhunters who want to buy one. Let’s create a grizzly stamp to sell and raise money much like we do with duck stamps. Let’s try something different. Let’s take some power and influence from those who wrongly insist we need to hunt grizzlies.
Grizzlies face enough uncertainty with impacts from human encroachment, habitat loss and degradation, and climate change. Warmer temperatures, less snow, earlier snowmelt and more drought has already caused a decline in white-bark pine nuts, berries and other bear food. To err on the side of caution we should not even be considering delisting grizzlies from federal endangered species status and turning management over states eager to kill them. Not yet. But if we do, we don’t need to hunt them.
There is no biologically or social justification to hunt grizzlies. We should manage them with the respect and reverence they deserve.