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Why Bears Matter


I dream about bears.

I am not sure when bears entered my subconscious in such a strange and vivid way, but they did, and I think they may be here to stay. I dream about ferocious grizzlies and playful, fat black bears. I dream about big white bears with paws the size of dinner plates and hollow hair that gleams creamy-yellow in the northern sun. In my dreams, I see cubs climbing trees and sliding over the ice. I sometimes think I can smell them in my sleep; I’ve been told they smell of pine sap and animal musk. Sweet, sticky, fresh, brutal. —Barry Lopez


 

Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation Bears are a wonderous species. Full of fun and gamesmanship, and yes, they pose a threat to humans. But that threat is only amplified by human stupidity and the actions of the very agencies that are, by design, the ones who should protect them. In Montana and Idaho, a rash of grizzly killings is found at the hands of sportsmen who refuse to use bear spray but instead go out with a pistol or rifle even when hunting is not in season. We are left with their word against that of a dead bear. Why not use bear spray? If you are that afraid, don't venture into the woods. Bear spray should be mandatory, and if they choose to shoot first, they should pay a price for their ignorance. The killings are now in Tom Miner Basin, near Whitefish, and last Saturday, a ten-year-old female with a cub near West Yellowstone. But in these states, people are rewarded for killing. The agencies and legislature continue their mad rush to delist bears. Still, in reality, they are already well underway in the delisting by killing as many bears as possible. We also do not know the nod and wink that goes on with sportsmen, as they insist on carrying guns when bear spray will suffice. Groups such as the NRA, Congressional Sportsmen Caucus, and the Foundation for Wildlife Management are printing money to get the billboards up that say, "Delist Grizzlies," a conservation success story; they are covering Idaho and Montana. They are drooling to kill this wild and beautiful creature.


Again, I have spent considerable time in bear country. When I hiked from Mexico to Canada, the length of the Continental Divide, I did so with no gun and no bear spray. But our camp was immaculate, and we had our food hung between trees. In Alaska, the same, and I had grizzlies sit on the side of my tent in the middle of the night, the one time we brought cough drops into the tent. I do not recommend such actions, but it was close to thirty years ago. Bear spray was unavailable then; I carry it on all hikes and backpacks today. The Game Commission, for their part, led by Pat Tabor's fury at predators, kills bears almost every chance they get. The reasons change, but it is clear Governor Gianforte has waged a war to kill and delist this bear of soul and might. If the feds won't delist, then the Republican Governors of Idaho and Montana will kill by proxy. It is yet another way that Republicans thumb their nose at federal regulations. Yet, its crickets come from Martha Williams, who runs US Fish and Wildlife, because she never wants to get cross-wise with sportsmen.


Grizzly bears are the symbol of wildness; they have come back from the brink, but it seems much like wolves, many in rural communities have branded them a real threat to their way of life. It is clear that anything that threatens cattle or sheep moves to the endangered list from being killed or is quickly delisted so they can commence the slaughter. Bears do not want to deal with people; they are, by nature, solitary creatures. Mothers, on the other hand, must raise their cubs. This is perhaps the most dangerous time for an encounter, but even then, the times are rare. Gianforte has made clear that he wants trapping to occur in Grizzly country despite the conflict with cubs and bears being caught in snares or wolf traps. How will we know if the public is in danger? The reality is if you come across a grizzly caught in a trap, it is a very dangerous situation. But in Idaho and Montana, our leaders do not care. The question boils down to why. Why do they ever want to allow a hunting season on this beautiful creature? The answer must be never, and we must fight like hell to make clear there is not the time to allow grizzlies to be killed for sport, period. More than that, we need more transparency. Why did the hunters and fishermen not have bear spray? It must be mandatory. Again, it seems like a manhood thing for some, but it needs to be made clear if you shoot before spraying, you will do time. The feds should decide the fate of any bear, not the state, and they need to stop yielding to the political pressure that national sportsmen's groups are putting on agencies and elected officials.


We need more grizzlies in more states, not less. Predators are essential for healthy lands and wildlife. We cannot accept the slaughter the states will put on grizzlies if they are delisted because it won't just be the number of bears people are allowed to kill; it will be the killing on public lands that livestock grazers utilize and the constant sportsman that feels a need to shoot first.

I have often thought of those who lived during the slaughter of bison and wildlife on the Great Plains; they were witness to ignorance on steroids, and I am sure many cried and felt the pain of the Manifest Destiny era. Today, we know far more about the feeling of wildlife. We may never live long enough to have the type of co-existence I dream of. Still, if we do not fight and fight like hell, we cannot break the lava of ignorance that flows across the West and threatens to destroy all that is wild and beautiful. It is our responsibility as humans to give back for the sins of our past.

We need to be clear in our voice: no hunting season ever for grizzlies, and take back the wildlife we love and respect to create a new era in wildlife co-existence.


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