This blog was first published as an op-ed in the Missoulian, Montana Standard, Billings Gazette, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Livingston Enterprise, Havre Daily News, Helena Independent Record, and Daily Inter Lake.
Grizzly bears are a paradox—at once valued and vilified, long-studied yet mysterious, powerful but vulnerable. Currently, they are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. However, last fall Montana's governor convened an 18-member Citizen’s Advisory Council to recommend how the complex animals should be managed by the state if, in the future, those protections are removed.
I commend the Council members for the time, energy, and thought they have dedicated to this difficult task—particularly during recent months under such trying circumstances.
One issue the Council is grappling with is whether, or to what extent, grizzly bears should be hunted. The Council should recommend instead that Montana's state wildlife agency, Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), continue its important focus on conflict prevention, public education, and long-term recovery, and not subject grizzlies to a future hunt.
Importantly, such a recommendation would not be “anti-hunting.” Instead, it would be a recognition that there are no good reasons to hunt this particular species, and many good reasons not to.
First, hunting grizzlies would do nothing to make livestock, property, or people more secure. Studies of hunted bear populations in the U.S. and around the world have consistently shown that hunting does not reduce bear conflicts, in part because hunting does not target the relatively few “problem” individuals. At the same time, there is clear evidence that widely available alternatives such as electric fencing, scare devices, and bear spray can, if used consistently and properly, effectively deter bears.
Second, hunting would not reduce (already very rare) attacks on people. On the contrary, it would put more people at risk. A recent, comprehensive review of brown bear attacks worldwide found no significant difference in the number of attacks in countries where brown bear hunting is legal and those where it is not. Notably, the study revealed that a significant number of the attacks involved people hunting brown bears.
Third, research contradicts FWP’s position that hunting grizzlies and other predators promotes “social tolerance” toward those species. For example, scientists in Slovenia found no difference in attitudes toward brown bears among residents living where bear hunting was allowed and those living where it was not. Similarly, surveys done by researchers in Wisconsin revealed that, following the first wolf hunting and trapping season held there in decades, there was an overall decrease in tolerance towards wolves among residents living in wolf range.
Fourth, grizzly bears in Montana already face a staggering array of threats, including climate change, disappearing food sources, habitat loss, isolation, expanding human development, increasing conflicts with livestock and humans, vehicle collisions, ever more public land users, and one of the slowest reproductive rates of any mammal in North America. Grizzlies persist at a tiny fraction of their historical population size and geographic range. Dozens are already killed by humans in Montana each year. The last thing they need is to be hunted, too.
Yet, FWP has proposed that if a hunt were to move forward, it would involve not one but two seasons—one in the spring, and one in the fall. According to the agency, the hunts would be limited, with only a few tags offered, so license revenue would be insignificant. Instead, FWP has explained that the main reason for holding the hunts would be to provide “hunter opportunity.” In other words, if the state has enough bears, humans should be able to shoot a few.
I urge the Council to reject that rationale. To kill a handful of grizzlies, just because we can, would not serve any management purpose or achieve any conservation objective. Hunting should be allowed for good reason, not no reason at all. There are many other, more effective management actions that FWP—and all of us—can take to safely live, work, and recreate in grizzly country, and ensure a thriving future for both Montana communities and the great bear.
All who care about grizzlies can respectfully share their thoughts on this important subject with Council members—and thank them for their work—by going to fwp.mt.gov/gbac and clicking the “Engage and Comment” button.