Originally Posted Monday, November 20, 2017
The very contentious issue of debate regarding the “listing” of the grizzly bear is again coming into focus in the American West. On Wednesday, November 29th, in Missoula, many of this regions grizzly bear bureaucrats will be gathering, once again, to discuss the status of ursus horribilis, most specifically, in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (or NCDE). The biggest piece of that day long discussion will be to debate the merits of delisting the grizzly in Northern Montana and if in fact that is going to occur how will the grizzly be managed moving forward.
They’ll all be there. You know who I’m talking about! From Wilderness Watch to the Sahara Club, and all of ’em in between, every environ- meddling outfit within five hundred miles. They’ll all be there in force, in all their glory, sanctifying the the status of the grizzly, and theirs as well. And of course, grizzly bear managers from the Fed, the state and the tribes will be driving the agenda for the day. I’m looking forward to attending, as a member of the general public and I do hope the public makes it’s presence felt. I can already feel the hair on the back of my neck getting stiff!
I’ve lived in grizzly bear country for quite some time, going back to the the early 80’s and on up through the present. I am writing this piece, having just come back from feeding in our barn, not expecting to see a bear there but keeping my eyes open regardless. I think it’s a bit late in November to find a hungry grizzly poking around near our feed bins but who knows, it’s only been a couple weeks since the last grizzly’s presence exited the property. I’ve been run out of there on more than one occasion over the years. There’s a foot and a half of snow out there and a whole lot more in the high country so chances are any bear in the area is denned up.
Most of my life over the past forty years has been spent at our ranch, directly adjacent to the southern edge of Glacier National Park, just to the north of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, and just west of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. There’s lots of bears in the area, to say the least. Always has been. Yes, we’ve noted some fluctuation in population over the years. The decade of the 90’s was really something, grizzlies everywhere. One summer we had three different sows with twin cubs on and off the property. We lost a colt to a sow with a cub one Spring night and the following evening had eight different grizzlies doing a dance around the culvert trap, set up to capture the sow that had killed the colt. A buddy of mine and myself counted 55 grizzlies between May and June 1st within ten miles of the ranch one year. It seemed like there were bears everywhere. These past ten years we appear to have lost the big, dense population of bears that we once had but I don’t think they’v gone too far! The population of those bears appears to have moved, or migrated if you will, in an easterly direction, over to the prairie country and the Rocky Mountain Front, back to their historic habitat, before the advent of the white man. We saw eight of the big bears there this past summer over the course of two days within a few miles of each other. And I doubt if we saw them all. There was bear sign everywhere.
I’m wondering if there will be some sharp folks attending the upcoming meeting in Missoula? Will there be some real outdoor brain power present at that gathering of bear professionals? Will they all have their laptops at their disposal, ready to augment their argument with satellite imagery data uploaded from a solar powered live feed 200 miles distant on Grant Ridge? How many of them will have spent years in the out of doors, in bear country, among bears, accumulating the experience, the knowledge, and the wisdom to know that the whole deal, the whole debate, the grist of the entire issue, is not as complex or as difficult to solve as they would have you believe? There will be several hundred attendees in Missoula on the 29th and several hundred opinions on how to proceed with the debate, “to list or not to list.”
There’s always going to be bears in this country, in the NCDE. It’s just a matter of how many we can live with, or perhaps how many can live with us. Of little doubt to me however, is that the number we finally settle on has got to be finite. In other words, there can’t be an unlimited degree of population growth among the big bears. There has been growth for decades and the results of that have been an increasing amount of man/bear conflict and a feeling among many folks that the biological and social carrying capacity of the NCDE has been reached. And yes, I do recognize that thought is not likely to be received well among the crowd I expect to be attending!
If I were in a position to make an executive decision regarding the future management of the grizzly bear here’s what would happen; The grizzly bear would once again become the domain of the state of Montana;. the presence of the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service would be relegated back to the east side of the Mississippi River, never to be present in this state again, ever; the population of the grizzly would be capped at its’ present number; legal hunting of the grizzly would be initiated and become a viable management tool in man/bear conflict; For starters, 50 grizzlies, two third males, and one third females, would be legally harvested each year: in the NCDE grizzlies will not be present east of Highway 89 from the Canadian border south to Interstate 90.
I’ve had a richer life having lived with grizzlies and in grizzly country for as long as I have. I also understand that the grizzly is an animal that needs lots of room to live, a whole lot more than you and I need. I’d rather see the grizzly in his world than ours. We don’t do well together and one of us always loses when there’s conflict. The bear dies or we get hurt and die as well. Neither of us wins. Leave the bear alone in northwest Montana, west of Highway 89. We’ll all be happy.