After spending nearly 24 years working at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks to protect park wildlife including restoring grizzly bear populations, I am deeply concerned that both the current administration and state agencies are putting these iconic animals in harm’s way. Grizzly bears that make their homes in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks teetered on the brink of extinction in the 1970s. The rebounding population that we now see did not happen by accident – and history has a way of repeating itself, if agencies are not careful in how bears are managed.
Working at Yellowstone for 12 years beginning in 1980 provided me a front row seat as management decisions were put in place to separate the bears from their dependence on artificial human food sources. I saw just how close we came to losing this icon of our national parks. I later spent another 12 years of my career with the National Park Service in Grand Teton, again observing daily the management of this species. I have witnessed how management decisions can have a large and long-lasting effect on how a population fares.
With this in mind, I am troubled to read reports that Wyoming is charging ahead with a grizzly bear hunt, just months after these bears were removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The decision to remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List was flawed from the start. It would be short sighted to take for granted the important role that Endangered Species Act protections have on securing the long-term health of this species. As currently written, the delisting plan fails to ensure the long-term health of the bears of Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Therefore, tribal interests and a broad coalition of conservation organizations are challenging the decision in court.
As a member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, comprised of nearly 1,400 retired, current and former Park Service employees, we urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resume Endangered Species Act protections for the grizzly bear, while the agency completes the analysis required by the law and addresses significant shortcomings in the final rule.
It is baffling to me that Wyoming would rush forward with plans for a hunt, while at the same time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is questioning the validity of their own decision to delist these bears.
Wyoming is trying to justify their push to start hunting grizzly bears by saying it is what the citizens of Wyoming asked for during a series of recent public meetings. Many who attended these meetings raised concerns with rushing to hunt these bears. Working for 24 years in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, I have seen the thrill of countless visitors getting to observe bears in the wild and witnessed the economic boon these visitors bring to Wyoming communities.
Wyoming should not gamble with this most iconic symbol and the corresponding economic benefits just to satisfy the desires of a vocal minority that want the chance to hunt bears when they move beyond the boundaries of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Under the current delisting decision, hunting could occur within National Park Service-managed lands including the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway; on privately owned land or inholdings within Grand Teton; and lands adjacent to those managed by National Park Service. This means the very bears that draw millions of visitors could be the first to fall victim to the states short sighted hunting plans.
We can and must do better to conserve this population of bears that brings so much not only to our own communities, but to those who visit from around the world. Wyoming should halt its plans to advance a hunt and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should spend the time necessary to ensure there is a delisting plan in place that assures the long-term health of grizzlies in the region.