The Problem of Hunting Grizzly Bears

A recently released report by The Grizzly Bear Recovery Project, shown at right, focuses on the likely effects of a grizzly bear sport hunt on both bears and people in the Northern Rockies. The report, entitled “Efficacies and Effects of Sport Hunting Grizzly Bears,” addresses a number of issues central to debates surrounding whether or not to start hunting grizzly bears if and when Endangered Species Act protections are removed. The report starts by setting the ecological and management stage, then addresses potential impacts on bear populations, likely effects on human safety and human-bear conflicts, and, finally, examines claims that hunting grizzly bears will build social acceptance. The report concludes that sport hunting will create substantial risks for grizzly bear populations in the contiguous United States, and not reduce conflicts, improve human safety, or foster increased acceptance of grizzlies in rural landscapes. Instead, non-lethal approaches are much more likely to foster grizzly bear conservation and improve human-bear coexistence, especially when coupled with authoritative processes that involve people with divergent interests in making management decisions.


You can download a copy of the report either by clicking on the image at right or on this link.

Credit Tom Mangelsen

Sport Hunting and bears cover back-1.jpg

Key conclusions of the report include:

  • Grizzly bear populations in the contingent United States are too small and isolated to insure long-term viability. Vulnerability of these populations has been and will continue to be amplified by recent and foreseeable deterioration of environmental conditions.


  • State plans for managing grizzly bear populations are not precautionary and exacerbate rather than ameliorate risks, partly through ideological commitments to the initiation of grizzly bear sport hunts as soon as federal Endangered Species Act protections are removed.


  • Sport hunting will likely have additive rather than compensatory effects on grizzly bear mortality, compounded by unplanned-for indirect effects arising from depensatory demographic responses. Taken together, these effects will likely result in unanticipated and even undetected population declines.


  • Sport hunting will likely not reduce levels of human-grizzly bear conflict barring hunts that drive local bear populations near to extirpation.


  • Targeted removal of bears chronically involved in conflicts will likely reduce conflicts over the short-term in specific locales. However implementation of strategies that focus on reducing availability of anthropogenic attractants are more likely to result in long-term benefits for both bears and people.


  • Sport hunting will likely not improve human safety, with beneficial effects more likely arising from the promotion of prudent human behaviors—including sanitation of human facilities, improvements in livestock husbandry, and changes in practices of big game hunters.


  • Sport hunting will almost certainly not increase acceptance of grizzly bears, even among those sharing space with grizzlies, but rather satisfy preexisting demands held by a small minority for hunting opportunities and the tacit if not explicit expectations of a comparably small minority that numbers and distributions of grizzly bears will be reduced by a sport hunt.


  • The issues of a grizzly bear sport hunt and removal of ESA protections for grizzly bears have more to do with the institutional premises and the business model of state wildlife management than with fulfillment of public trust responsibilities by state wildlife managers.


  • Acceptance of grizzly bears is more likely to be encouraged by involvement of a broad cross-section of the public in grizzly bear management—with an emphasis on equity and meaningful representation on a sustained basis—than by implementation of a sport hunt.


  • Sport hunting grizzly bears will almost certainly not achieve any of the goals stated by those who promote it, but rather simply fulfill a cultural predisposition, with the potential of further alienating the large majority of people who do not support trophy hunting or even morally object to it.