You might remember that in June 2017, it was announced that the long-endangered grizzly bears of Wyoming would be taken off the federal list of endangered species that used to legally protect them. It was proposed at least a year prior that the US Fish and Wildlife Service take grizzly bears off their Endangered Species Act list, but now it has actually happened. In 2007 they were briefly de-listed, but outrage influenced the decision to be overturned.

Now, while government regulations are hardly ever something to be celebrated, at a point in history where defensive force does not legally extend to protecting animals if it is lawful to hunt them, the consequences of the de-regulation are coming. This is where regulation becomes a paradox.

For the first time since the 1970’s, Wyoming grizzlies will be hunted by people who will pay the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, state wildlife managers for permission to do so. They will profit from selling licenses at a rate of $600 for a local resident and $6,000 for a non-resident. It is unclear where this money goes, whether it is collected by the state government or what happens to it.

Petitions have gotten a lot of traction online to stop the grizzly hunt, with some articles even going so far as to suggest that they could accidentally eliminate the rest of the grizzly population should the hunt be allowed.

While the wildlife managers claim the hunt will be off if the population were to decline to 600 bears (back to endangered), is that really what we want? Do people want to keep the grizzly bears just on the verge of extinction, but not more populous than that? It it really something human beings should alter?

The grizzly bear’s population in North America used to extend all the way from modern day Canada to Mexico. They could be found as far east as Kansas, and as far west as the Pacific Ocean.

The European colonization of the west nearly led to the annihilation of the species, with patches of grizzly bears remaining in Canada, and what is described as a little “tear drop of habitat around Yellowstone- representing just 2 percent of its historic habitat,” according to Wired. That is the particular species of bear, the grizzly.

In the 1970’s, Wyoming’s grizzly bear population was estimated at a mere 150 bears, at which time the federal government’s Endangered Species Act banned most hunting and development in the near 34,000-square-mile Greater Yellowstone area.

Now, the population has grown to roughly 700 bears around the area of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. So they are granting licenses to kill just about 100 bears?

An argument for the grizzly hunt may exist in the need to protect people, a flimsy one if people are going after the bears before being personally attacked, but that’s not the first thing to be said by most people praising the move to allow hunting. People certainly die from bear attacks all the time.

An ex-politician strongly supported the move. According to the Missoula Current:

“Zinke, a former Montana congressman, said the final delisting rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be published “in coming days” and go into effect 30 days later.

He hailed the move as marking “one of America’s great conservation successes.”

Population studies show grizzly bears have more than doubled their range since the mid-1970s, occupying more than 22,500 square miles (58,275 sq km) of the Yellowstone ecosystem, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. That area is larger than the land mass of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, combined, the agency said. Despite those gains, the grizzly is found in only about 2 percent of its original range in the lower 48 states.

For the Yellowstone region, the scope and quality of bear habitat, regulatory mechanisms developed over the years and the existing balance of male and female bears should allow the states to maintain a viable, long-term grizzly population number in the high-600s to low-700s, agency officials said in March when delisting was proposed.”

Before European colonization, grizzlies apparently survived okay with the Native Americans. The tradition continues today with some native people opposing the grizzly hunt.

Apparently most Native Americans consider the bear sacred, and some of them spoke out in opposition.

Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy man Chief Stan Grier reported that the tribes were “adamantly opposed to this decision.” Tribes in both Canada and the US signed an actual treaty to oppose the removal of protections for the bears.

“The grizzly is integral to our cultures and religious lifeways, it is a sacred being that protects our sacred lands,” Chief Stan Grier declared. “Within this struggle to protect the grizzly, and thus the land the grizzly, in turn, protects, we find many of our struggles: the struggle to defend our sovereignty, our treaty rights, to preserve and enforce consultation mandates, to defend and strengthen our spiritual and religious freedoms.”

A common argument from hunters is that species such as wolves or grizzly bears are deadly predators who must meet their fate being killed by humans, and while they have a point that many wild wolves and grizzlies would instantly rip a person to shreds if they could, where is the balance human beings should strike? Do we really want to live in a world without wolves and grizzlies even if they threaten us sometimes?

The ability for both human beings and grizzlies to survive on Earth is now enabled by our ability to defend ourselves. Self defense from wild grizzlies is how people can live in balance with nature and keep them alive. But in the past, it wasn’t so practical to guard ourselves from grizzly bears of course, and many people living in the US for the past several centuries, from Native Americans to Europeans probably did not want them to be so populated (although they could also use them for food, fur, ect).

When human beings decide the fate of any entire species, or any such thing so serious to the rest of the Earth, we should definitely tread lightly and consider the consequences of our actions with much thought and reprise.


Image credit: MBH, MSH, Steiner Optics