The American public doesn’t like the trophy killing of its biggest, most majestic and still exceedingly rare wildlife.
AT one level, Yellowstone National Park is like an unending fireworks display for visitors — a stunning sensory overload of geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, lakes and soaring peaks. And Yellowstone’s cavalcade of wildlife takes your breath away — the sight of its elk, bison, foxes, and eagles are enough to quicken your pulse. Now, thanks to a reintroduction effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are wolves to see, too.
No matter how often I go there, though, nothing tops the emotion I felt years ago on a hike in the park when I glimpsed my first grizzly bear. The bear was heading for a nearby lake, and I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
While people trek to Africa to see wildlife, the fact is we have our own wildlife-watching spectacles in Yellowstone Park and other parts of the Northern Rockies. That’s why it’s so disconcerting to think of the one-two punch contemplated by federal and state wildlife managers in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming aimed at grizzly bears. They are planning to suspend federal protections for grizzly bears, while the states, chomping at the bit, are planning to sic trophy hunters on them. In fact, according to a leaked memo, the states have already divvied up the bears among themselves.
At the same time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to delist Yellowstone bears, it also is studying whether to transplant young grizzly bears into the North Cascades in Washington state to ensure a genetically viable population can persist. It seems like cognitive dissonance to me. Reintroducing bears in one place, but unleashing trophy hunters to kill individuals from a different, but still depleted, population?
The American public doesn’t like the trophy killing of its biggest, most majestic and still exceedingly rare wildlife. In fact, fresh polling data show that 68 percent of respondents oppose opening up trophy hunts on Yellowstone area grizzly bears. Their delisting under the Endangered Species Act isn’t just the wrong moral decision — it’s economically and scientifically unsound.
Saving nature, and allowing human access and controlled uses, has been a bulwark of our national economy for more than a century. In 2015, Yellowstone Park alone received more than 4 million visitors while Grand Teton National Park received nearly 5 million — worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually — as tourists are drawn to its beauty and wildlife, including the most famous and studied bear, Grizzly Bear 399.
Called America’s “best idea” by nature-writer Wallace Stegner, our national parks create a “halo effect,” driving commerce in the regions abutting the parks, with hotels, shops, restaurants, camping outlets and other businesses. In 2013, the national parks received more than 273 million visitors. All those visitors spent $14.6 billion in surrounding gateway regions, which helped create 238,000 jobs and contributed some $26.5 billion to the economy.
Yet these lands would be far less appealing without their most valuable assets — the animals that inhabit them.
Grizzly bears already face challenges. Biologically, they exhibit a startlingly slow reproductive rate, exacerbating the historical effects of human persecution. There are fewer than 2,000 grizzles in the continental United States (down from 50,000 in the 19th century), with 61 bear deaths in Yellowstone last year alone. What’s more, core elements of the great bears’ diet are rapidly dwindling due to climate change, invasive species and pesticide use.
Above all, we can’t forget the moral cost of killing these remarkable animals for their heads. If we allow the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in Yellowstone, those animals who are wary but tolerant of people could be in danger, such as grizzly bear mama 399. For years, with her various cubs in tow, she has ignored hordes of onlookers and their snapping of cameras without incident. Yet, she may be the first to go.
Delisting would only encourage states to commission headhunting expeditions. That might make permit-pushers happy, but meddling with fragile biological-recovery efforts and long-term economic benefits from ecotourism and wildlife watching is a steep price to pay.
Please take a moment to send the Fish and Wildlife Service a letter at regulations.gov, urging the agency not to remove federal protections from Yellowstone grizzly bears.
Information in this article, originally published April 20, 2016, was corrected April 27, 2016. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to transplant grizzly bears into the North Cascades next year. While the agency is studying the relocation option, no decision has been made.