Bears are Busy on the Front

So long as grizzly hunts are biologically sustainable, I won’t oppose them even if I won’t participate

Grizzly bear numbers in the Northern Rockies are growing, and that seems likely to continue despite removal of the bruin’s protection under the Endangered Species Act. Plans are being developed for grizzly hunts in the future, and while I won’t participate, the fact that bear numbers have reached the point that sustainable hunting is possible should be seen as a victory for wildlife conservation.

Some will always oppose hunting seasons for bears, just as they do with wolves. They may be concerned about the prospects for the bear’s long-term survival, or just don’t like hunting, especially for charismatic megafauna that provide trophies rather than food. But so long as hunts are biologically sustainable, I won’t oppose them even if I won’t participate.

On a personal level, I agree as I only hunt animals I intend to eat. Some folks eat bear, black bear to be more specific, but due to the critter’s protected status there’s not much of a culinary tradition for griz, at least in the lower 48. In Alaska, where brown bears are plentiful and have long been hunted, eating griz is more common. Reviews are mixed, with the standard answer indicating what the bear had been eating recently made all the difference.

Kill a bear in a berry patch means palatable meat. Kill a bear that had been feasting on rotting salmon, and, well, you get the idea.

Maybe the best tip on bear meat came from a message board frequented by Alaska hunters. When it came to sausage processed from brown bear meat, one poster suggested this: “Mix enough pork with it and anything tastes good, even merganser!”

I’m not sure that’s such a ringing endorsement. I prefer to just eat the pork and not kill the bear in the first place.

Like wolves, grizzly hunting will be part of the management of the species. And it’s useful to remind ourselves that part of management has social elements as well. In the case of wolves, the species in Montana had been on a steep upward trajectory for years, but the population has leveled off with hunting and even declined a bit as hunters and trappers have taken a toll. Still, some would have us ramp up the hunt even more in an effort to significantly reduce the wolf population in Montana.

I don’t think such an approach would be socially acceptable, but the more limited hunting that is allowed provides a retort to those who oppose the presence of wolves in the wild altogether.

A griz hunt might have the same effect. There are about 700 already delisted grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming, which may be the state most enthusiastic about the potential new hunting season, may allow 10 to be killed. At that level, I suspect it will neither have a significant effect on the population, which has been stable for a decade, nor will it suddenly end the human-griz conflicts that are increasingly common in the inhabited areas east of the park.

There are now about 1,000 grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Delisting for this population is planned in 2020. Human-griz conflicts on the plains east of the mountains are on the rise, and folks in towns such as Valier are adapting to the new paradigm of living in bear country.

That change is probably permanent. While some might prefer we readopt the old paradigm that the best use of a grizzly bear is as a storage receptacle for spent bullets, that’s an attitude most of us moved on from a long time ago.