Mike Bader

The latest ploy to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for grizzly bears (delisting) is to use trucks to move bears from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) to Yellowstone to enhance genetic diversity. A Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokesman recently said a delisting rule for the grizzly bear would be the “Death Star.” That hits the mark.

Delisting the Yellowstone and NCDE populations would certainly be a death certificate for untold numbers of grizzly bears. Trucking grizzly bears is a cynical ploy that does not have the bears’ best interests at heart. Nor is it likely to succeed.

First, the proposal is manipulative, intrusive and easily a two-day operation extremely stressful for the bears. After drugging, handling and towed in a trap over busy highways, the bears get dumped into a crowded space with unfamiliar foods. These individuals would not have ESA protection and would be arbitrarily dubbed “experiments.”

The return instinct in grizzly bears is powerful and translocation distances need to be 120 miles or more. If the bears do stay, they must survive to breeding age and successfully breed. Then those offspring must also survive, reach breeding age and successfully breed before any new genetic material is added to the population. Trucking a couple bears every few years is a thin reed on which to rest genetic diversity and is a waste of perfectly good grizzly bears for a politically-motivated experiment.

A basic question regarding the wisdom of human-assisted carnivore translocations is how likely are the animals to reach the destination on their own? Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWPs) has been saying for years that connection between the Yellowstone and NCDE populations is inevitable as they are believed to be just 37 miles apart. Grizzly bears are showing us with their paws where they want to go, whether it’s the Bitterroot, the Big Hole, the Big Snowies or the Missouri River Breaks.

Frank van Manen, chief of the Yellowstone Grizzly Study said genetics are not an immediate concern in Greater Yellowstone and with population increase things have stabilized. At a recent meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, the Supervisor of the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forests noted the closeness of the populations and asked “What’s the hurry? Can’t we wait?” The answer from FWPs was no, we need to do this now.

The court ruling FWPs cites did not specifically order them to truck grizzlies into Yellowstone. Rather, it called for a plan to address genetic diversity concerns in the Yellowstone ecosystem and the Northern Rockies more broadly. A plan could include increased protections for connectivity habitats and installation of highway passage structures to enhance natural movements as recommended by the Montana Grizzly Bear Advisory Council.

Hopefully, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) doesn’t go for these head fakes. Giving in to the forces of politics and greed would be an irresponsible abdication of legal responsibility in the face of a host of demonstrable threats. If delisting is achieved for more than 90% of the grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, FWS would be powerless to stop broken promises, habitat loss, lax implementation of Conservation Strategies, hunting seasons, shooting by ranchers and other killings of grizzly bears.

Concern would wane and killings would occur at a rapid and unsustainable basis. Any effort to restore protections would take years if it happened at all. Too late for the grizzly bear.

Bears are not hitchhikers and don’t need a ride. They need habitat. Let them go where they will, wild and free. Moving grizzlies by mechanical, artificial means? No trucking way.