Conservation of Grizzly Bears
As an avid outdoorsman I have an interest in all types of animals, even those that I may never see in person, in fact many that I know I will never see in person. Animal behavior is very interesting to me, as well as how they are surviving as we humans take more and more of their habitat away. That in turn spurs my passion for conservation, not only of their habitat, but of the animals themselves.
It is amazing to me how conservation efforts, driven primarily by hunters and game management organizations, have restored our wildlife populations in a finite area as the number of humans and urban development has increased dramatically over the past 120 years. What perplexes me are anti-hunters, especially when it comes to grizzly bears and wolves, and their reluctance to let that game management process continue, which eventually involves hunting those same animals we have restored. It is a necessary tool for managing the game populations, which is something some people just don’t understand. I have a whole article to write about this concerning wolves, but tonight I want to talk about grizzly bears.
When Lewis and Clark set out on their expedition to explore the west, they encountered grizzly bears on a regular basis, and not just in the mountains, most of their encounters were on the plains and riparian areas as they travelled up the Missouri River. At that time the estimated grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states was 50,000, with the vast majority of that being west of the Mississippi River. Today there are about 1,200 grizzly bears in that same area, which is pretty sad. Of the 37 separate grizzly populations present in 1922, 31 were extirpated by 1975. In 1975, the grizzly was listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act.
Through game management and conservation efforts, there are now five established population areas in the lower 48 states of grizzly bears. I keep clarifying the lower 48 states because there are about 30,000 grizzlies in Alaska, and if I threw that number in to this article, that would skew the point I am about to make. I’m not implying that our grizzly bear population globally is in trouble, but the efforts to restore this population in the lower 48 states has succeeded, so much to a point that now it is time that we have to hunt them in order to preserve them.
The population of those 1,200 grizzlies is growing at an annual rate of 3%, which is a great success. However, they are outgrowing their habitat that we have forced them to live in, and now they are venturing out into areas where they once lived before; the plains adjacent to the mountains. Grizzlies are now comfortable grazing in alfalfa fields and sleeping in ravines, the same ravines that pheasant hunters send their dogs into to flush a bird, or the same ravines that a rancher searches for lost calves. In Montana there was a grizzly that was so accustomed to humans that he learned how to open a barn door and spend his evening feeding on the oats meant for horse feed.
This leads to my point; it’s time that we utilize hunting grizzlies as a means to continue their preservation. If we limit their habitat and fear their damage outside of that habitat, then we have to manage them. Grizzly bears are wild animals, and they will find the most efficient methods to survive, which under these circumstances will eventually lead to human encounters as they outgrow the habitat we have given them. We have to have confidence in our wildlife management professionals to understand this situation, which they do, and let them do their job of managing our game. De-listing grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act doesn’t mean that we are going to go out and shoot all of the grizzly bears; it means that qualified people are going to recommend that a certain amount of bears be taken out of that population so that they can survive, and so we can survive along side of them. That makes logical sense.
But instead what happens is some organization will find some way to fight that wildlife management effort because they think they are protecting the bears, when in fact they are perpetuating the problem. Usually the people that fight against wildlife management are the ones who know the least about them or what it takes to manage them. They think that hunters are blood-thirsty killers who just want to shoot animals, and they have likely never given a dime to the state wildlife management organizations that try to manage this situation. It’s an unfortunate situation, and one that we outdoors people have to be aware of.
If you are a hunter, I am sure that at some point in your life you have had a conversation with a non-hunter or an anti-hunter, and you may have felt the need to justify or defend what you do as a hunter. What I have just said in this article should lead you on the right path to your response to those people. Hunters and fishermen are the main population that drives for the conservation of all things wild. Period.