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 (ESA) 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 but instead exacerbate risks through ideological commitments to the initiation of grizzly bear sport hunts as soon as ESA protections are removed.

  • Sport hunting will have predictable 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 is unlikely to reduce levels of human-grizzly bear conflict barring hunts that drive local bear populations to near extirpation.

  • Targeted removal of bears chronically involved in conflicts can reduce conflicts in specific locales for short periods of time. 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 is unlikely to improve human safety. Beneficial effects are more likely to arise 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 have more to do with the institutional premises and 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 sustained meaningful representation—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 or even morally object to trophy hunting.​

Join Us for a Youtube Live Event

October 6th at 11 am MST

Join us for a live Youtube event in which Dr. David Mattson talks about why the best available science says that hunting grizzly bears is harmful, not only ecologically, but also to relations between grizzly bears and people. Event details will be posted on September 30th. For more on what David will be talking about download the report linked at right entitled "Efficacies and Effects of Sport Hunting Grizzly Bears."

Of relevance to these conclusions, a paper was recently published in the journal PLosOne, entitled “Population reduction by hunting helps control human-wildlife conflicts for a species that is a conservation success story." This paper authored by David Garshelis is being referenced by pro-hunting advocates as proof that hunting bears can and will reduce human-bear conflicts. As a bit of context, Dr. Garshelis works for a state wildlife management agency and is an advocate of hunting, which perhaps helps explain the inflammatory over-stated title. The paper itself is specific to black bears in Minnesota.

More importantly, though, despite the title, results of the reported research are wholly consistent with the conclusions listed above. Substantial reduction of conflicts was achieved only after an approximate 50% statewide reduction in the black bear population, accompanied by local near-extirpation of bears in conflict hotspots. This population reduction overshot what managers were attempting to achieve, consistent with unanticipated depensatory effects, and went undetected for years. It’s interesting that the last sentence of the paper’s abstract takes note of “…the bluntness of this instrument [i.e., hunting] and deficiencies and uncertainties in monitoring and manipulating populations..."