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Today’s grizzly bears of Yellowstone are staring down the greatest threat to their survival since the park was founded in 1872. The most important bear food in this ecosystem, the nuts of whitebark pine trees, has succumbed to an infestation of mountain pine beetles, an invasion made possible from the persistent trend of warmer winter temperatures in the high mountains. Punctuating the controversy raging around the consequences of climate change on bears, two people have been killed by grizzlies during 2010 on the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park–the first time in history two human deaths have been recorded in that ecosystem during a single year, a year that is far from over.
The first fatality occurred on June 18th just seven miles from Yellowstone Park’s east entrance at Kitty Creek. A 70-year-old botanist, Erwin Evert, took his customary walk near his summer home and unexpectedly ran into perhaps the most dangerous of bears–a recently snared and radio collared grizzly who was waking up from a tranquillizer administrated only hours before by researchers working for the federal Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
The second attack took place outside the northeast entrance to Yellowstone near Cooke City, at the Soda Butte Campground in the national forest on July 28. A bear injured two campers in their tents and killed another man, Kevin Kammer, at his campsite; the victim was partially consumed.
The next day, three members of a grizzly bear family, an adult mother and three yearling cubs, were captured at the Soda Butte. All four animals were considered malnourished, or below the average weight of grizzlies at those ages. The responding warden, Captain Sam Sheppard of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, immediately labeled the incident a “highly unusual predatory attack,” saying, “She basically targeted the three people and went after them.” The New York Times and Associated Press subsequently reported, under the headline “Killer Bear Had Parasites,” that “poor nutrition alone did not explain such predatory behavior.”
“Predatory” is the kicker here and the buzz of marauding killer grizzlies spread like prairie fire in the West. Naturally, segments of the national and regional press began to question if hungry bears were roaming Yellowstone stalking humans as food.
News releases to the public are filtered through the collective agencies that control grizzly bear investigations in the lower 48 states: The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, led by Bozeman biologist Chuck Schwartz, and the Grizzly Bear Committee, coordinated by Missoula’s Chris Servheen. Members of all of these groups operate under the Department of Interior’s US Fish and Wildlife Service. This collective entity, which I will refer to as the Recovery Team, issued two Investigation Team Reports, one for Kitty Creek and one for Soda Butte.
The independent grizzly bear community (a loose confederation of grizzly advocates, non-government scientists and conservation group activists) received the government reports, especially the Soda Butte investigation, with pointed criticism and cries of censorship. Specifically, they called the reports “a sloppy job,” “mushy,” a “deception and cover-up.” Dave Smith, author of Don’t Get Eaten: the Danger of Animals That Charge or Attack, commented on the Kitty Creek incident: “As far as I’m concerned, Schwartz and Servheen got away with murder.”
But if the criticism is indeed valid, how could such hazy reporting happen? Here is a government agency representing the public, armed with the most sophisticated of investigational tools (forensic, genetic, etc.), preparing an open document so citizens will understand what happened at Kitty Creek and Soda Butte. Why would they want to be anything but complete and clear in their reportage? Their critics think the opaque and slanted reporting is directly related to the political fight to remove Yellowstone’s grizzlies from the Endangered Species list.
Underlying all grizzly bear discussion today lurks the issue of whether the Yellowstone grizzly remains a “threatened” species. Yellowstone’s grizzly bears were removed from Endangered Species Act protection, or “delisted,” by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007. Conservationists and environmental groups successfully sued the government and the bear was back on the list in 2009, primarily because the FWS failed to assess the threat of losing the whitebark pine. Presently, the federal government is appealing that decision, returning to court to have the Yellowstone grizzly delisted from the Endangered Species Act. In this appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, the trophy-hunting advocacy group Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation joined Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the USFWS as “Defendant-Intervenors”
The impolite tone of the ESA-listing debate between grizzly advocates and government employees entrusted with the welfare of the bears south of Canada would have pleased my old friend Edward Abbey. It’s downright nasty and uncivil. They routinely call each other liars and hypocrites. Each side quotes its own biologists and science. If the stakes for bears and humans were not so immense, this animosity could seem almost refreshing.
Beyond this squabble loom global threats and human attitudes that drive the fates of both men and bears. The loss of whitebark pine, its red ghost forests bleeding off the tops of our western mountains, is but the harbinger of yet unimagined consequences of global warming that will challenge our most basic attitudes toward the land and nature. Plants and animals may have to move up the mountains or further north to accommodate shifting weather and climate. With pine nuts unavailable to grizzlies, the carrying capacity—the richness of the habitat—is already diminished in the Yellowstone ecosystem. The Yellowstone bears will require a larger range in which to forage. This means bears moving into areas outside public lands, including private property and agricultural areas—essentially all lands grizzlies choose to occupy. People will have to accommodate bears with a degree of tolerance not yet on the horizon. And why should we? Are grizzly bears that important?
Biologists sometimes like to quibble that losing the grizzly because of the collapse of whitebark pine forests may be the least of our ecological worries. Ecosystems are, of course, founded on the backs of bugs and bacteria not bears. But there is another argument, less scientific, for keeping a few grizzlies around: the American grizzly bear, especially the isolated population marooned on the island of Yellowstone Park, stands alone in defiance of human arrogance. It is the single North American animal who challenges our dominion, reminds us that we are not top dog in the wilderness or within the food pyramid. An encounter with this animal, who could kill and eat us any time it chooses but almost never does, is a stiff lesson in humility.
You don’t have to dig very deep into global warming before you run into notions of human arrogance and the absence of humility. The Yellowstone grizzly is threatened because a principal food source, whitebark pine nuts, has become a casualty of climate change; it happened fast, mostly in the past five years. Where it was once possible to think of global warming as a distant and incremental phenomenon, tomorrow an ice sheet could collapse into the ocean and the resultant sea-rise would displace millions of starving humans. Modern two-legged omnivores seem to have difficulty perceiving what serves their own self-interest for long-term survival. There’s no longer a saber-tooth crouched in the brush. Yet, all around me, the tops of the mountains are red with dead trees; believe in it or not, here prowls the beast of our time.
Not all agree that that the loss of whitebark pine forests as a food source is the greatest threat grizzlies have experienced in the history of Yellowstone Park. Another perilous time for bears was the closure of the park’s dumps during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For decades, virtually all grizzlies in Yellowstone fed at open-pit garbage dumps operated by the National Park Service. When the park abruptly closed the dumps, the bears predictably went searching for garbage, which is nutritious bear food, in campgrounds and neighboring town sites where, predictably, they were killed. At least 229 grizzlies died in the five years following the dump closures. The bear population plummeted. In 1975, Yellowstone’s grizzlies were declared “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The difference between today’s situation and 1972 is that back then healthy stands of whitebark pine still grew in the high country. Surviving grizzlies slowly readjusted to natural foods. Thanks in part to efforts by the federal recovery team, the population gradually increased.
That same USFWS team does not believe that the decline of whitebark today imperils grizzly survival. As recovery coordinator Chris Servheen recently noted: “The grizzly bear is not a whitebark-pine-dependent species.” The government position is that the Yellowstone grizzly, as an adaptable and flexible omnivore skilled at pioneering resources, will simply find new foods to replace whitebark nuts. This convenient and optimistic theory will be hotly contested in the Delisting appeal by the USFWS and Safari Club International and is directly related, their critics say, to the deceptions and cover-ups of the Kitty Creek and Soda Butte fatality reports.
Details from the two Investigation Team Reports do seem murky, controversial and sometimes contradictory. The Kitty Creek Report appears to lay the blame on the victim, 70 year-old botanist Erwin Evert—at least, this is what the popular press has taken away from the fatality Investigation. The Report says Evert saw a “Dangerous Bear” warning sign a week before he was killed and he was “anxious…to see what they [the government trappers] were up to.” Based on a confused statement by a friend, the report says Evert knew about one trap, known as site #2. But in fact, researchers had snared a bear at another trap, site #3, which neither Evert nor his friend knew existed. Evert walked a route he had been using for 30 years and arrived the site #3 about 2 PM, where he encountered the recovering (from the tranquillizing drug) grizzly who killed him with a bite to the head. The government trappers had left site #3 and the recovering bear at 12:30 PM, removing the closure signs as they left, moving uphill while Evert walked up from the bottom of the creek. So there were no warning signs at site #3 when he got killed, also no warning signs at the Kitty Creek trailhead. Evert and the other cabin owners were not notified by government authorities that a bear was being trapped at site #3. The area was not “closed” due to trapping activities. The point is the Investigation Team easily could have cleared up the confused interview with the friend and the resulting ambiguity that implied Evert was knowingly meddling in active bear trapping activities.
Blaming the victim, however, draws attention away from charges of bear mismanagement, such as what were trappers from the Interagency Study Team doing snaring a grizzly so close to human habitation? Trapping is dangerous, sometimes deadly, to bears and people. Is radio-collaring grizzlies at every turn of the trail really necessary to extract the new information we need for grizzly conservation? Despite the availability of less-intrusive methods of study, such as DNA information from scat and hair collections, this heavy-handed approach is repeated with bureaucratic monotony. Managers are now capturing grizzlies in Wyoming at record pace. Shouldn’t researchers be required to justify the scientific need to trap a particular bear?
The process of baiting, snaring and tranquillizing grizzlies is notoriously dangerous to both bears and people. Over late night drinks, this topic dominates conversation among bear biologists gathered at conferences. The drug used to tranquillize the grizzly who killed Evert is called Telazol, a common choice for such purposes. Telazol is related to PCP, sold on the streets as Angel Dust. Multiple injections of Telazol into animals can prolong the recovery of a bear from the drug by many hours. The grizzly who killed, but did not eat, Evert, was injected three times with Telazol between 9 and 10AM. At the time the trappers left, 12:30PM, the grizzly was “holding head up and swaying.”
If they had seriously tried, the authorities could have caught this grizzly alive and they might have learned something that would have contributed to the investigation. Instead, the bear that killed Erwin Evert was shot from a helicopter two days later. The grizzly was not difficult to locate since he was still wearing his radio collar. And, apart from protecting the Interagency Team from litigation, why did this male grizzly have to die? It wasn’t the bear’s fault he was doped with Angel Dust, abandoned by the trappers and then surprised by Evert.
One of the reasons professionals wait for a tranquillized grizzly to fully wake up is because the drugged animal might be killed by another bear who perhaps perceives weakness or infirmity. This has happened many times. Also, the waking bear may strike out defensively at other animals, like a wounded animal—dangerous in any case. Did the trappers leave trap site #3 too soon? That’s a judgment call only the two researchers can answer.
The Investigation Team Report on the attacks and fatality at Soda Butte is even murkier. In this incident, a mother grizzly and her three yearling cubs entered the campground; two campers were injured, a third killed. The investigators had access to follow-up interviews with victims and witnesses, DNA from bears and human wounds, stomach contents of bears plus bite-measurements (between canine teeth) from the grizzlies and all bitten victims. The government didn’t properly use this information and that is troublesome.
In fact, it’s impossible to sort out the actions, movements and vocalizations of the humans immediately prior to the attacks from this report. The report implies the mother bear did all the attacking but was she drawn to particular tents by movements or screams or, possibly, the proximity of her own yearling cubs? The report yields few clues.
The Associated Press and countless other news sources have plucked the phrase “predatory attack” (the Investigation Team concluded: “…aggressive, predatory behavior”) from this mushy report but the use of this word is incendiary, inaccurate and conveniently misleading. It dismisses the incident as aberrant behavior from an anomalous bear, now safely dead, instead of talking about the underlying issue–inadequacy of natural foods now that whitebark pine nuts are no longer available.
The chronology of the bear attack in the campground is unclear except that it began about 2AM. The mother grizzly bit a man sleeping in a tent on the leg and bit a woman, also in her tent, on the arm and leg. The report says only that the woman “screamed and then played dead hoping the bear would leave.”
The victim, Deborah Freele, who woke up just before the bear bit her arm, was later interviewed at the hospital in Wyoming:
“I screamed, he bit harder, I screamed harder, he continued to bite,” she said, adding that she could hear her bones breaking. “I told myself, play dead,” she said. “I went totally limp. As soon as I went limp, I could feel his jaws get loose and then he let me go.”
The report badly misinterpreted these important details. What happened to Deborah Freele was not “predatory behavior” nor was it a predatory attack. This is the defensive (though no less terrifying) behavior of a mother grizzly who thinks her cubs are in danger. The Investigation Team could have clarified this confusion.
The report states the dead man was partially consumed (at the tent and 10 yards away), but the report is not clear in the sequence of when and by whom. They imply the yearlings were complicit in the feeding but don’t give supporting evidence such as bite measurements or stomach contents–if they took any. The investigators certainly knew the stomach contents of the mother who they killed two days later. (The three yearling cubs were transported to Zoo Montana in Billings for permanent captivity.) If they found evidence, or the absence, that she consumed human flesh, why don’t they say so? Perhaps the man fought back vigorously and bravely and she dragged him ten yards from his tent; the yearlings could have seen this–anything once dead is food to a bear–and treated the victim as they might a carcass. This sudden shift from the investigatory behavior of a grizzly around a campsite, followed by an unexpected attack, then treating the human victim as a food source is not unknown. This is not the same as “predatory,” though this distinction is of absolutely no consolation to the family of the victim or of any importance to the female grizzly who was not a meat-eater. The popular press, however, voraciously fed on “predatory” and warned, “Beware Yellowstone bears this year: They’re hungry.”
The report team had the opportunity to use documenting photographs and offer useful speculation on such possibilities but chose to leave their hard evidence hanging in ambiguous limbo.
Perhaps the most interesting data from the Soda Butte Report emerge from the analysis of isotopes in the blood, serum and hair from the necropsy of the mother grizzly. For the previous two years, she had lived on a near exclusive plant-based diet. Though a strict vegetarian for two years, it is possible that this female consumed a minimal amount of meat in the last few weeks of her life—perhaps resulting from a recent binge of garbage in the Cooke City area. This is only a possibility, although it would help explain her visit to the Forest Service campground. But isotopes of carbon (C4, for instance, indicates animals that consumed tropical plants like sugar cane and sorghum not native Yellowstone plants) show this bear ate natural plant foods, not human processed sugars or agricultural syrups found in human refuse. Isotopes of sulfur would indicate consumption of whitebark pine nuts; this grizzly, based on isotopes, was not a consumer of nuts or meat. The grizzly family was still wearing their winter coats in late July. She and her yearling cubs weighed in at the low end of the normal range for such age and time of year: The bear family was malnourished.
Based on isotope analysis, the Soda Butte Report states: “This female utilized few or no whitebark pine seeds, even in 2009, a year when whitebark pine seeds were abundant in the Cooke City area and much of the Yellowstone ecosystem.” Critics say this statement is misleading.
The Interagency Yellowstone Team studies whitebark pine seed availability by counting how many cones grow on individual trees along a transect, a sample strip of land in the high country. A 2009 study by the National Resources Defense Council, Bio Graphics and the US Forest Service, based on aerial photography and ground surveys of whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, documented that about 82 percent of whitebark pine trees were dead or dying. Fifty percent of the whitebark pines around Cooke City were dead or damaged. Counting cones on individual trees in forests that are 50-90 percent damaged or gone is increasingly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how the numbers of cones fluctuate from year to year when the forest is functionally dead for bears. This obsolete study technique will make a reappearance in court.
It is well documented, in many studies, that a good Yellowstone pine nut crop results in better cub reproduction for female grizzlies because of improved general nutrition. It also reduces human-cause grizzly mortality because a good crop of nuts holds the grizzlies in the wilder whitebark pine high country instead of forcing the bears to drop down to look for food where humans offer birdseed, dog food and garbage and armed big game hunters abound.
In a 2006 Wildlife Monograph, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader Chuck Schwartz predicted, “should whitebark pine decline rapidly, we speculate that we would witness a scenario similar to what occurred when dumps were closed in Yellowstone National Park: more management problems, particularly outside the Recovery Zone, with a substantial increase in measurable bear mortality.”
This is precisely what is happening to now.
Still, the government denies the obvious: “There is no connection between the fatality in Cooke City and the loss of whitebark pine, that is not related,” said Schwartz on September 2nd. “This thing that happened at Soda Butte is extremely rare, it’s off the radar screen.”
There is, however, another possibility: the Soda Butte grizzlies, characterized as preternatural and behaving aberrantly–the one in a million predatory grizzly–may be the Yellowstone bears of the future. They were malnourished, hungry and sufficiently desperate to risk a run in with humans to obtain food. They ate wild plants and lived off the natural vegetation of the Yellowstone ecosystem but their diet wasn’t nutritious enough to keep them healthy. The mother needed more protein and fat in her diet. Why didn’t she feed on whitebark pine nuts? Either they weren’t available in her range or she couldn’t compete with larger males for this preferred food.
The Soda Butte Investigation Team Report mentions the presence of “moderate to numerous tape worms and roundworms” in the adult female’ intestine. Parasites in wild bears are ubiquitous: what was different about the parasite load in this bear? The Report doesn’t say. Parasites notwithstanding, the mother grizzly was strikingly thin. Cooke City is an area notorious for its problems with bears and garbage. Though the victim’s tents during the Soda Butte grizzly attack may have been clean, all such campgrounds reek of human food. Furthermore, the Soda Butte Campground is in a dangerous location for people because it is excellent bear habitat. But these are minor observations.
The salient point is that, without whitebark pine nuts as a food source, we may be seeing many more Yellowstone bears like the Soda Butte grizzly. Natural vegetation, plants alone, may not suffice to keep bears healthy. Berries are not as abundant in Yellowstone as in other grizzly ecosystems like Glacier. Major bear foods in the region already may be stressed: cutthroat trout are threatened by Lake Trout, which have been illegally introduced into Yellowstone Lake, and the availability of army cutworm moths, which bears sometimes feed on in high talus fields, is heavily influenced by pesticide spraying in the Midwest and Alberta. Climate change looms as the big wild card. What Yellowstone’s grizzlies immediately need is protein from meat, which they can find by locating a winterkilled bison, preying on livestock and by appropriating kills from other predators like wolves or elk hunters. Of course, human big game hunters are armed and dangerous.
This brings us to the core issue for the future survival of Yellowstone’s grizzly population: what are they going to eat and where will they find it? The federal recovery team contends that the grizzly is not a whitebark pine-dependent species and that the Yellowstone bears will simply readjust to alternative food available in the ecosystem. Plant food will be the base, but without augmenting a vegetarian bear diet with protein Yellowstone’s grizzlies could end up looking like the Soda Creek bears—undernourished.
Probably the most shameful policy of the state I live in is the Montana Department of Livestock’s slaughter of wild, native Yellowstone buffalo. The bison are hazed into pens by helicopters and ATV’s, and then shipped off to slaughter facilities. This bloody scenario is driven by the unfounded fear of buffalo transmitting brucellosis to cows; brucellosis is, incidentally, a European disease introduced to the New World by domestic cattle. The slaughtered bison constitute wild protein that Yellowstone grizzlies could be eating.
Likewise, wolf kills provide a great, if minor, source of food for bears. The problem is that wolves are treated like varmints in the three states surrounding the park. In virtually every conflict, or threat of conflict, with domestic livestock, wolves are shot, run down by helicopters and blown away—despite nominal federal protection under the ESA. Wolves should be killing elk throughout occupied grizzly country (a much larger area than the official recovery zone) and sharing their meals with bears. Our agricultural approach to wild animals, “wildlife management,” is doomed when applied to free-ranging bison, wolves and grizzlies. If conservationists recognized that the fates of wolves, bears and bison are indeed mingled, all Yellowstone’s creatures might benefit.
Elk hunters contribute significant protein for grizzlies. The armed two-legged predators also provide the context for the most deadly conflicts with bears. Seventy-nine grizzlies died in the ecosystem in 2008 and 46 more in 2009. Of course the bear was delisted in 2008. About half of the 79 dead grizzlies were shot by humans, the majority of these killed by hunters just because they could, an unfortunate but common attitude in the Northern Rockies, and because there are virtually no penalties for killing grizzly bears–the game and fish departments of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana tend to accept any claim of self-defense in grizzly county. Successful elk (also deer and antelope) hunters leave behind a gut-pile, often lower limbs or heads of the animal and sometimes much more. Commercially guided trophy hunters like the Safari Club members, especially those hunting southeast of the park, often carry off just the trophy head and cape, leaving hundreds of pounds of protein for scavenging bears. This arrangement creates the most deadly situation in the ecosystem, dangerous to humans and a bottomless well of death for bears. The only solution is for state managers to close down particular drainages to hunting once a female grizzly, or other hungry bear, has been known to range there during hunting season. Many hunters would concede this small amount of territory to grizzlies, though it is unlikely managers will.
The Investigation Team reports on Kitty Creek and Soda Butte strike me as products of an insular government entity that sees itself both besieged by critics and safely isolated from public review. Releases from the recovery team, like these reports, seem carefully edited to support the insane push by the government to delist the Yellowstone grizzly. The recovery team is so politically mired in this Bush-era mentality that it can no longer see outside its own walls to the needs of grizzlies in the lower 48. The political compulsion to delist has replaced any semblance of recovery science.
In fairness to the federal recovery effort, it deserves some kind of Service Medal (maybe like the one I got for visiting Vietnam) for its work since 1975. The recovery team contributed significantly to reducing human-caused grizzly mortalities during the critical years following the closure of Yellowstone’s garbage dumps. No one could foresee global warming knocking out whitebark pine and stressing food sources. Recovery goals slipped uncontrollably under everyone’s feet.
In recent years, however, the insistent clamor to delist has crowded out common sense and science. The team gripes about “the exaggerated fear of grizzlies that’s spreading ‘bearanoia,’” but they seem blind to the fact that their own reports contribute significantly to the hysteria. Some conservationists believe the delisting frenzy has infected the recovery team with a delirious institutional need to retire with a success story. In any case, the USFWS irresponsibly succeeded in having the Yellowstone grizzly delisted in 2008, and that action facilitated the deaths of at least 79 bears.
The tragedy is that the federal team has replaced the mission to recover a healthy self-sustaining population of grizzlies in today’s changing environment with the shortsighted goal of a technical delisting. Therein lies the true challenge: to sustain a habitat where a nutritionally-challenged grizzly, perhaps like the Soda Butte bear, can survive in a time of global warming, living in a landscape increasingly sculpted and diminished by human needs. Will removing the bear from the ESA list doom Yellowstone’s grizzlies? Probably. Will maintaining the grizzly bear as threatened suffice to protect an enduring population in the ecosystem? Probably not.
Yellowstone’s grizzlies will survive only if they are allowed to occupy a much larger area than currently recognized by the recovery team and re-connected genetically and physically with bears from the Glacier Park population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. It would help reduce grizzly mortality if the status of the bear was elevated to endangered.
On the other hand, maybe it’s time to toss out the old recovery plan and start anew. We have to stop killing bears, especially breeding females: Areas occupied by grizzlies will have to be closed during hunting season and at other times; trapping and tranquillizing wild bears must be restricted. Most of all, grizzlies must be allowed to wander and pick their own occupied territories; that means all of the Wind River mountains, the Gros Ventre and Wyoming Ranges and other places and ranges not yet on our radar. We need to engineer freeway underpasses to get grizzlies across I-15 into the Bitterroot, across I-90 to the Scapegoat and the Crazy Mountains.
Opposing the grizzly are the usual extractive industries and agricultural interest of the West. Wildlife management wants to manage and sell hunting licenses, livestock grazers prefer cheap allotments on public lands that are free of predators and, above all, the gas and oil industry would love the grizzly, a giant pain in the ass whose habitat requirements often preclude energy exploration, to just go away.
So long as Barack Obama is unaware of the plight of the grizzly, the necessary action to save the bear is impossible.
Secretary of the Interior Salazar endorsed the delisting effort instead of taking the only positive measure possible: overhaul the recovery team and install a new program capable of filtering science and reality from this institutional smokescreen, most recently evidenced by these sorry reports. The recovery plan itself is obsolete.
That the Safari Club International, perhaps fearing a shortage of fierce grizzly heads on their walls or bear rugs in their dens, has joined the recovery team in an appeal to delist the Yellowstone grizzly represents the caricature to which these federal agencies have reduced themselves. The recovery team no longer serves the best interest of the bears or the citizens they are supposed to be serving.
Secretary Salazar should simply tell the USFWS recovery team to withdraw their appeal to delist the grizzly. It would save taxpayer bucks on both sides; the delisting/relisting battle has become a very expensive and unnecessary legal yoyo. The real work to save the grizzly lies beyond the personal crusade to delist.
Last year, President Obama traveled to Montana to fly fish with a man I know. I hope he returns soon to cast a fly to a cutthroat trout on one of Yellowstone’s blue-water streams. And when he raises his eyes to the shining peaks and summits he may see the blanket of red forests draped across the shoulders of the Rocky Mountains. I hope someone will tell him about the brown-coated bear up there, walking along the stark ridges, wading through the immaculate snow drifts of autumn, and I hope Mr. Obama might contemplate the fate of this great creature another American President called the most magnificent animal on the continent.
With special thanks to Dave Smith and Robert Hoskins.
DOUG PEACOCK is the author of Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness, Walking It Off: a Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness, and co-author, with Andrea Peacock, of The Essential Grizzly: the Mingled Fates of Men and Bears.