Social media hammered park officials for a decision to euthanize “Blaze,” a longtime park grizzly responsible for killing, feeding on a hiker
JACKSON, Wyo. — Yellowstone National Park officials have received much criticism — some based on inaccurate information posted on social media — for their decision to euthanize a grizzly bear that killed a Montana man this past summer, a park wildlife manager said.
“People posted my phone number and my email, as well as other park staff, and we got hundreds and hundreds of emails and phone calls,” said Kerry Gunther, the park’s lead bear-management biologist. “My voice mail was overloaded, my email was overloaded.”
During a meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee, Gunther described how social media spread outrage about the sow known by some as “Blaze,” the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.
“A lot of it I would classify as hate mail and some of it thinly veiled threats, not only to me but to other park staff,” he said. “This really kind of took us by surprise. I think it’s a wave of the future: People have learned to use social media as a weapon, and a few people putting out false information can really stir up lots and lots of people who may not know any of the real facts of the situation.”
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Lance Crosby, 63, who worked as a nurse in the park’s medical clinics, was hiking alone and without bear spray when he was killed in August by a grizzly bear. Bears had fed on part of his body and hid the rest of the body.
On Yellowstone’s Facebook page some posts about the situation generated more than 6,000 comments, Superintendent Dan Wenk said.
“We tried to give people factual information,” Wenk said. “There were ‘bear experts’ out there who were posting information who were portraying that they actually knew what happened in this situation.”
Tens of thousands of people signed onto an online Care2 petition that proclaimed: “Blaze and her cubs do not deserve to be killed because someone didn’t take necessary steps to avoid a confrontation.”
However, there was never a decision to kill the cubs, which instead were sent to the Toledo Zoo in Ohio.
The petition’s focus then shifted to getting the cubs sent to a rehabilitation center so they could someday be released into the wild.
“If those same 50,000-plus people had all donated $20 to preserve bear habitat with conservation easements, it would have protected the whole bear population. for generations in the future,” Gunther said. “I think we need to start getting out that population matters as much or more than the individual, rather than people just worrying about one individual bear. We’re trying to save the whole population, and we’re trying to save it for future generations.”
But audience members who later spoke out during public comment suggested that the focus on individuals isn’t going away.
“These (named) bears are ambassadors for their species, and they’re catalysts for a wider grizzly-bear conversation outside the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” said Cindy Campbell, a Jackson Hole resident.