Cheyenne Spiritual Leader Says BC Grizzly Hunt Foreshadows the Future in Greater Yellowstone
Tribal Coalitions in British Columbia and Greater Yellowstone Stand on the Frontlines to Protect the Great Bear
“Generally, we know deforestation, climate change, and declining salmon runs are all impacting the bear,” cataloged Megan Moody of the Nuxalk First Nation. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, think pine beetle infestation and blister rust laying waste to whitebark pine, and substitute cutthroat trout for salmon. And then there is trophy hunting. Despite a poll conducted by McAllister Opinion Research that shows an overwhelming majority of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting of grizzlies (87%), the provincial government continues to serve the vocal minority and increased grizzly tags for this year’s spring hunt from 1,700 to 1,800. “I don’t think there’s any place for this disgusting, barbaric, so-called sport of trophy hunting in British Columbia,” said Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
A November 2013 peer reviewed paper authored by biologists from Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, details how trophy hunters have killed 3,500 grizzlies over the last decade in British Columbia, some 1,200 of those being females. “The scary part for me about the hunting and killing of bears is that we really don’t know how many there are,” continued Moody. “I would rather protect them and have them here for thousands of years to come, rather than pretend we know what is going on and allow the needless killing of them.” She was talking about the Great Bear Rainforest, but Megan Moody’s concerns can be echoed for the GYE: we really don’t know how many grizzlies there are either, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s “grizzly czar,” Chris Servheen, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), and the state game and fish agencies of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho all pretend that they know what is going on, and intend to allow the needless killing of the grizzly.
To add some perspective, the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment claims that there are 15,000 grizzlies in the province, and while that figure can certainly be disputed, what cannot is that the BC grizzly population dwarfs the IGBST’s most recent inflated estimate of 741 in the GYE. Having seen grizzlies wiped out in tracts of their traditional homelands, Moody and her colleagues know how precarious the viability of several thousand grizzlies is, let alone a few hundred. When the trophy hunting lobby of provincial and state game agencies are to be appeased, grizzly bear population estimates become malleable. In the late 1970s, one count indicated that there were 6,600 grizzlies in British Columbia, but under the influence of the proponents of trophy hunting, that figure rose to an incredible 17,000.
The IGBST and US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have not massaged the GYE grizzly population quite so egregiously, but they managed to find the additional couple of hundred bears roaming their computer models to satisfy the tri-state game and fish agencies intent on opening hunting seasons on the Yellowstone grizzly in 2015. “It is absolutely barbaric, that we allow rich people to come in and slaughter bears,” continued Chief Phillip, a sentiment shared in Greater Yellowstone by GOAL (Guardians of Our Ancestors Legacy), a tribal coalition formed to defend the grizzly from trophy hunts in the region. Like British Columbia’s Minister of Forests, Steve Thompson, FWS’s Chris Servheen ignores public opinion. In 2007, of 210,000 comments submitted to FWS regarding delisting the Yellowstone grizzly, over 99% opposed removing the bear from Endangered Species Act protection and the prospective grizzly hunts.
Former BC Environment Minister, Barry Penner, conceded that in some areas of the province, “harvest rates for grizzly bears can be as high as 9%.” A Wyoming Game & Fish veteran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, forecast that the state would issue at least fifteen grizzly bear tags for the first hunt in a post-delisting GYE. During the final four years of Wyoming’s last grizzly bear hunt, from 1970-1974, the state provided an annual high of thirty tags and a low of twelve for a population on life support, and so relative to the present circumstances, around fifteen tags would fit the political agenda. If the proposed fifteen tags were added to the average grizzly bear mortality rate cited by the IGBST for three consecutive years in the GYE, from 2010 through 2012, trophy hunting would account for 23% of annual grizzly mortality. When added to the hunter caused deaths known to the IGBST and documented for that three-year period, hunters would be responsible for 41% of grizzly mortality. These are simple calculations that require no convoluted formula to obfuscate, but what they cannot predict is a ratio of male to female mortality.
According to a US Forest Service ranger, in September 2013 a grizzly was killed by a hunter near Elk Fork on the North Fork of the Shoshone River in Wyoming. That hunter, apparently anxious to fill his black bear tag, provides one more example of hunters mistaking grizzlies for black bears. Had the grizzly charged the hunter and made its escape, Wyoming Fish & Game would have felt duty bound to issue a press release and the “grizzly attack” would have made the local news, but being as the bear didn’t do anything but die at the hands of an impatient hunter, they evidently didn’t think it worthy of a sheet of letterhead. With a resumption of grizzly season in reach, an ill-informed hunter shooting a grizzly in contravention of federal law was off-message.
If shooters can’t distinguish between a grizzly and a black bear, there is no reason to believe that they will have any clue if the trophy in their sights is a male, a female, an impregnated female in the fall, or a female with cubs that they didn’t realize had them, because the cubs were concealed when they shot. The proposed Wyoming Game & Fish prohibition on killing “females with dependent young at side” would not save them in that typical field scenario. IGBST biologist, Mark Haroldson, and Chuck Swartz, the former IGBST team leader, are of the opinion that when Yellowstone may have had fewer than 200 grizzlies, “reducing adult female mortality by one or two bears per year would likely have been enough to stabilize the population.” The question they need to answer in reality, and not virtual reality, is how many females will need to end up as rugs to destabilize the population now, and in the forthcoming decades?
“It is impossible to articulate in a sound-bite the spiritual significance of the grizzly in our culture,” said Cheyenne spiritual leader, Don Shoulderblade, spokesman of GOAL. “The grizzly is sacred, an ancient spirit, a great healer and teacher. The grizzly is integral to our traditional spiritual lifeway,” he continued. Shoulderblade identifies Greater Yellowstone as part of the ancestral homeland of the Cheyenne, a fact acknowledged by the National Park Service. “We will not stand by in the land of our ancestors and watch grizzlies be blown apart by high-powered rifles and mutilated just to satiate the bloodlust of some rich, ‘great white hunter,’” he added. “This is not a hunting issue, it is a killing issue. We come from a subsistence culture, where there is ceremony and great respect accorded those beings you ask to offer their lives so that you might live,” he said.
“That is what you call a hunting tradition, not a killing tradition,” Shoulderblade clarified.
© Guardians of Our Ancestor’s Legacy (GOAL): Tribal Coalition to Protect the Grizzly.