Field Notes

Why Grizzlies still need protection – An open letter to Wyoming Game and Fish

by JasonApr 15, 2016
Grizzly Bear 399 Stands In Bushes in Grand Teton National Park

As the owner and operator of Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris I have some serious concerns regarding the de-listing of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears at this time. Our business has grown exponentially over the last 10 years with wildlife viewing being one of the fastest growing recreational segments of the traveling public. In that time the interest in viewing and photographing bears has exploded with the grizzly being the number one animal people come to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone to see. Grand Teton, in a just a few years, has become known as a bear park on par with Yellowstone and offering some of the the best bear viewing opportunities in the lower 48 and even the world. This has been driving a wildlife based tourism economy in NorthWest Wyoming that is worth well over 1 billion dollars a year!

I will admit that I love grizzlies. They are awesome wild animals. To be in their presence, standing on the ground with them and to know that you are not the top predator allows you to know what wild really is. This is unmediated wildness in its purest form. Everyone, from the woodsman to the East coast tourist, understands what it is to be wild in that moment. I believe the grizzly, and all other wild animals, do have intrinsic value and have a right to wild spaces where they can roam and interact naturally. I also recognize that this intrinsic value is not a compelling reason for many to justify their presence nor tolerate their expansion. This is where the economic argument for their protection and reasonable management becomes an important aspect to moving forward toward living with these animals and managing them with careful respect as to not disrupt a valuable and important part of our economy in Wyoming.

The recovery of the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is most certainly one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time. The grizzly was hunted, trapped and poisoned to near extinction to the current population that by some estimates is well over a thousand bears. An amazing recovery that cost Wyoming and the Federal government tens of millions of dollars to achieve.

We are now at a crossroads. On the one hand it might be reasonable to de-list the grizzly and allow the states another opportunity to attempt responsible management of this great resource. This is a responsibility that was ignored in the past. The state agencies ‘managed’ all predators of the time with the same desired outcome in mind – to eliminate them from the landscape. Times have certainly changed since then yet the anti-predator sentiment and irrational management decisions that this sentiment can effect are still barriers to many trusting the states to truly manage these great animals responsibly. This means using best available science and rational policies to conserve grizzly bears instead of destroy them.

Though I personally believe, through my observation and 17 years of guiding in the Greater Yellowstone Area, that there are probably around 1,000 grizzlies, I really don’t know. For me to estimate the current population of grizzlies is an innocent exercise that leads to healthy debates among my peers. It’s fun conversation and pretty much proves nothing. Yet the de-listing requires, by law, a certain number of bears and that number is supposed to be based on best available science. That is not the case right now. No one knows how many grizzly bears there are! Everyone, even the ‘experts’, have no idea and are relying on modeling to come up with ridiculously specific figures that imply certainty yet really mean nothing. This should not be the basis of our delisting nor is it reliable enough to detect trends in grizzly populations moving forward. This problem is fundamental and needs to be honestly solved before we move forward.

I actually believe that delisting is probably reasonable except that de-listing most certainly means a trophy hunting season. This is the primary reason I oppose de-listing and the states taking over management of grizzlies. Spending tens of millions of dollars to recover these animals only to allow people to go out and kill them again seems insane to me – especially in light of how much they are worth alive to our tourism based economy. The killing of grizzly bears, especially in and around the national parks would be a disservice to the vast majority of Americans who own this land. Only the select few who might kill a bear could then hang it on their wall for them to enjoy alone – a national treasure lost to all but one. I have personally heard people say they look forward to being able to kill some of the famous park bears just to spite those of us who make a living from and enjoy watching these animals. Bears like 399 spend a good portion of the year, including during the fall elk hunt and hibernation outside park boundaries. Without protections these habituated park bears will most certainly be the first to be killed and consequently cost our economy millions, all to allow for one person to hang bear 399 on his wall. A lot of people rely on these bears for their livelihoods and that needs to be carefully considered by those who might not know or even care.

Survey after survey shows support for grizzly conservation and a national (and local) distaste for the trophy hunting of grizzlies. We have been part of one of the greatest wildlife conservation successes in history and have an obligation as stewards to the national trust to build on that legacy. I implore the commission to move forward carefully and not succumb to short sighted thinking and political motivations that will interfere with ecologically and economically sound policies with regards to grizzly bears. Our economy, livelihoods and the future of our grizzlies relies on cautious and conservative policies that will not threaten this most valuable national resource.

Thank you for your consideration,

Jason Williams
Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris

Jason Williams
Our Expert

Jason Williams

Founder / Naturalist Guide
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