FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Living With Grizzlies

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Grizzly bears indisputably create challenges for those of us privileged to live among them. Our food is their food. Grizzlies are also among the largest of large carnivores in North America. Because of their size and sometimes aggressive defense of personal space they can be dangerous, enough so to have killed around 70 people since the turn of the previous century. And they are, indeed, showing up more often in our backyards, pastures and fields.

But that is only part of the story.

We humans are far more lethal to grizzly bears than they ever will be to us. Between 80-90% of all the adolescent and adult bears that die do so because a human kills them, amounting to a human-caused toll of nearly a thousand bears since the mid-1970s. By contrast, the odds of any one of us being mauled, much less killed, by a grizzly during a close encounter are trivially small, somewhere around 3 to 6 out of 1,000 — about the same as me being savaged by a squirrel in my yard.

Moreover, in contrast to the comparative trickle of grizzly bears into what we consider our back yards, we humans are a veritable tsunami overrunning their wildlands. As anyone knows who has been around northwestern Montana for even the last 10 years, ever more land is being gobbled up by residential developments that intrude on previously wild country. The associated influx of people has spawned ever more day hikers, mountain bikers and traffic, along with a burgeoning of domestic animals, fruit trees, lawns, and garbage that attract bears to the places we live. Anymore, the Flathead Valley and Missoula environs are a veritable wall of lethal humanity.

But the plains and into the valleys. The official mantra is that mounting numbers of bears have saturated carrying capacity in the backcountry, impelling them outward onto the peripheries of historical range. Buried in this narrative are the assumptions that increases in distribution have been proportional to increases in bear numbers and, moreover, that carrying capacity is static.

Neither is true. Increases in bear distributions in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone have far outstripped even the most optimistic estimates of population growth. And carrying capacity is not static. Notably, important bear foods have been lost and habitats destabilized by rapidly changing environments and climates. Whitebark pine is functionally gone as a bear food, at the same time that transient unproductive habitats have spread in the aftermath of escalating wildfires.

Meanwhile, the cattle that are drawing bears ever farther out from the Rocky Mountain Front have reached near record numbers since low ebb a decade before. Compounding all of this, berry famines drive spikes in grizzly bear mortalities that foreshadow what will happen if, as projected, berry-producing shrubs and their pollinators are devastated by human-caused changes to the environment. In other words, habitat matters.

The world is not static for grizzly bears. In fact, they are probably under more duress now than they have been for decades. Grizzly bears are not the problem. We are the problem. One-sided stories that lack context will only make it more difficult to grapple with the challenges and complexities of living with grizzlies.

More articles by:

David Mattson worked for the grizzly study team for 2 decades. He retired from the US Geological Survey two years ago. 

Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
Rob Urie
Class, Race and Power
John Davis
A Requiem for George Floyd
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mutiny of the Bounties!
Richard D. Wolff
Revolutionary Possibilities: Could U.S. Capitalism Turn Nationalist?
Richard Falk
When Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court
Louis Proyect
Smearing Black Lives Matter…From the Left
Ralph Nader
Trump and Pence – Step Aside for Professional Pandemic Scientists and Managers
Ramzy Baroud
Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology
Philippe Marlière
Challenging the French Republic’s Color-Blindness
Richard C. Gross
Attack, Deny
Lee Camp
Connecting the Dates – US Media Used To Stop The ‘Threat’ of Peace
Steve Martinot
The Desire to Kill
David Yearsley
The War on Kitsch
Amy Eva Alberts Warren – Rev. William Alberts
Why are Certain Christians Democratic and Others Authoritarian?
Lawrence Davidson
Covid Madness
Brian Cloughley
Britain’s Disorder and Decline
Ellen Taylor
The US Military Has Its Knee on the Throat of the World
David Rosen
White Nationalists on the Attack
Jeff Cohen
Politicians of Color Should Not be Immune From Criticism
Joseph Natoli
Drawn Away from Reality in Plain View
Frank Joyce
Give Me Liberty,  Give You Death
Jonah Raskin
My Adventures in the Matriarchy
Paul Street
The Racist Counter-Revolution of 1776
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Corruption of the Democratic Party: Talking to Ted Rall about his new book
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Record on Foreign Policy: Lost Wars, New Conflicts and Broken Promises
Paul Edwards
A Bridge Too Far
Jennifer Joan Thompson
How to Do Things With Theses: Chile’s National Police Force Sues the Feminist Artistic Collective, Las Tesis
Shawn Fremstad
Vacations for All!
Thomas Knapp
A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases
Vijay Prashad, Eduardo Viloria Daboín, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Venezuela’s Borderlands Have Been Assaulted by COVID-19
Thom Hartmann
COVID Masks: The Latest Faux Conservative Outrage
Jesse Jackson
Mandatory College Football Practices in Time of Pandemic are Nuts
Nicholas Vincenzo Barney
Consensus Politics on the Fringe: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Intellectual Dark Web
Ted Rall
The Data is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden
Joshua Tartakovsky
Sergei Khrushchev: An Eulogy from His Close Student
Theresa Church
In Reconsidering ‘Normalcy’ Genetically Engineered Trees Do Not Belong
Chelsea Carrick
Let’s Not Lose Momentum
Adam Rissien
Sorry Secretary Perdue, Our National Forests are Not Crops
Paul Gilk
A Few Theoretical Percentages
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”:  A Phrase That’s Tells us Very Little, if Anything,  About the Actual Levels of Danger We  Face
Claire Chadwick
I Got COVID-19 at Work. I Won’t be the Last
George Wuerthner
The Upper Green River Should be a National Park, Not a Feedlot
Julian Vigo
Profiteering in the Era of COVID-19
Ravi Mangla
Policing is Not a Public Good
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail