We were deeply saddened by yesterday’s news that the United States has elected to de-list the grizzly bear from the endangered species list. The consequence? A population of bears genetically isolated from all others will now be legally hunted, despite the unknowns of climate change and the opposition of indigenous communities.
Bears like Raspberry and Snow that we’ve come to know and whose stories we’ve sought to share now face long odds to die of natural causes. Given that their territory extends beyond an artificial line on a man-made map, their propensity for co-existing near people will make them easy targets.
And if Scarface hadn’t already died from a bullet, he too would likely be killed, given his tolerance for people and the reality that no national park is large enough to cover the range of even one large male grizzly.
Though no one can say for certain what the long term impact on the US – and Canadian – grizzly population will be with the introduction of trophy hunting, the loss of iconic grizly bear ambassadors is virtually assured. Does this matter? Yes. Individuals offer insight deeper than numbers, showcasing unique personalities worth learning from and have the ability to foster empathy and understanding for a species misunderstood.
And this is science’s ultimate failing. While the US government will argue their decision to allow trophy hunting (by way of giving ‘management’ authority back to the state) is based on sound science, the reality is that it is as good as the (often biased) parameters that have been set for those studying the issue.
Science should be a compass that points us in the right direction, but the final decision on the route taken by decision makers must take into account more data, including the worth of one sentient being to people across a nation, as well as its value as an economic driver.
So where to from here? Buffer zones and sanctuary corridors.
We’re not American and we don’t have as much say in this issue as we’d like, though we can vote with our wallet and will encourage others to do the same. But the challenges now facing US grizzlies are not dissimilar from those facing bears in British Columbia.
As we’ve written many times before, we’re not anti-hunting, but have an admitted problem with trophy hunting large carnivores whose very existence underpin the systems that give us life. But we also take issue with efforts to make hunting policy a zero sum game, deepening the cultural divides and creating a never-ending fight that drains resources and hurts all involved.
What’s needed on both sides of the border is coherent policy that ensures there are places where people come first, and also places where wildlife can come first.
Buffer zones around areas we’ve already invested in conserving is a mandatory first step. Animals need more space than the small pockets we’ve afforded them and ensuring that they have a break when they step across that man-made line is just common sense. Development and hunting should never be allowed a foot away from Yellowstone’s border.
The second step? Create wildlife corridors that provide sanctuary for animals like grizzlies as they move between protected areas (and between population units) so to ensure genetic diversity. Science will help us know what areas are most critical, but so too will indigenous knowledge. And by creating market-based solutions to implement these cooridors (certification for ranchers that help protect wildlife on their land, for example), they have the potential to pad the economies of those communities on the frontlines.
Both ideas will be hard to implement, but not impossible. Moreover, they have the potential to pivot the debate away from an us-versus-them dynamic and create change that will truly endure.
Regardless as to whether you agree or disagree with our position, the important recognition is that status quo isn’t working and that new solutions to long tired debates are needed. It’s no longer good enough to be against something; we must be for something. Raspberry and Snow and so many other creatures like them that have given us so much deserve better than what’s being offered. And it’s now up to all of us, as individuals, to move past anger and sadness and work together to create a better tomorrow for all life.