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Aiming at the Heart of the Grizzly

Photo by  Roger Hayden

Broken promises, disrespect and outright lies. These are at the heart of the Trump Administration blitzkrieg against environmental laws across the nation. We saw it again at the recent Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) meeting in Polson, Montana.

By expediting removal of federal protection for the grizzly bear, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is paving the way for corporate cronies and wealthy trophy hunters. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is being force-marched by Zinke, who infamously stated that 30% of his staff “are disloyal to the flag.”

Disloyalty means transfer or termination. In this case they’re breaking the rules by speeding through the caution flag in order to win the race, which is a year-end deadline to delist grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. That opens the door to trophy hunting and increased development on public lands. They’ve already made the same play in Greater Yellowstone, where Wyoming plans to hunt 22 grizzlies this fall.

While I do not speak for them, Native tribes have expressed opposition to grizzly hunting and discontent with government-to-government outreach and respect. They have tremendous traditional, cultural and spiritual connections with the grizzly that have been downplayed or ignored.

The IGBC meeting was an appalling litany of buck passing, butt covering, changing facts and excuses for broken promises. FWS state director Jodi Bush’s first up is down argument was that “the Conservation Strategy is not a substantial document and is not a decision-making document.” What? The Conservation Strategy for grizzly bear management in the Northern Rockies isn’t significant? It makes decisions on how and where grizzly bears and their habitat will be managed, counted, and monitored across millions of acres, but it doesn’t make decisions?

Next she said the 2016 letter from FWS promising public comment on a final Conservation Strategy is no longer valid since the final is primarily a Forest Service document (even though FWS published the draft in the federal register). Besides, she said the public got to comment on the draft in 2013. It was then announced the ad hoc “public comment,” (where people signed up for three-minute vignettes of their views on a 326 page document released hours before), had fulfilled their obligations and no additional public comment of any kind will be sought. I did not bother to sign up for this charade.

The conservation strategy is part of the delisting process and FWS is the management agency for threatened and endangered species while they are listed under the ESA. It can’t be pitched out to someone else. Moreover, the new version has extensive changes from the draft, is much longer and relies on new scientific methodologies.

FWS took a similar short cut with its final Habitat Based Recovery Criteria, which weakens habitat standards and has no plan for linkage even though it is a Recovery Plan task. A previous IGBC wrote: “Wildlife habitat conservation and the eventual recovery of listed species such as grizzly bears will require connections between populations.”

What happened between then and now? Ryan Zinke. After the Polson meeting former Grizzly Recovery Coordinator Dr. Chris Servheen said, “When it gets bent and tarnished by rapid time frames that don’t have much basis in reality, and poor transparency in why decisions are made, that’s really unfortunate…There shouldn’t be a rush to delist for somebody’s time requirement.” (Missoulian, 6/24/18).

Ryan Zinke is aiming straight at the heart of the grizzly, undoing forty years of progress towards partial recovery of the great bear. Please stand down Mr. Secretary. We knew Teddy Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt was a friend of conservation. Mr. Secretary, you’re no Teddy Roosevelt. 

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Mike Bader is an independent consultant in Missoula involved in grizzly bear management and recovery issues since the 1980s. He is co-author of Road Density and Grizzly Bears in the Ninemile Demographic Connectivity Area, Montana.  

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