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No good reason to hunt grizzly bears

by Zack Strong
| June 7, 2020 1:00 AM

Governor Bullock convened an 18-member Citizen’s Advisory Council last fall to recommend how grizzly bears should be managed if, in the future, Endangered Species Act protections are removed.

One issue the council is grappling with is whether, or to what extent, grizzly bears should be hunted. The council should recommend instead that 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 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, 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.

Zack Strong is a wildlife advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Bozeman.