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April 28, 2018

Wyoming should stop hunt of Yellowstone grizzlies

By Theresa Pierno and Phil Francis guest columnists

National Park Week is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone, as well as the 417 national park sites where people connect with our shared history, refresh their spirits and see wildlife. National parks must not become islands of protected lands, choked by industrialization or sanctuaries for endangered and recovering wildlife populations. However, Wyoming’s aggressive plan to hunt 24 grizzly bears this fall, on land that borders Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks, aims to do just that.

Through a flawed process finalized in July 2017 by U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies were removed from federal protections. The final rule fails to ensure the bears’ long-term health and gambles decades of work and millions of tax payer dollars invested in restoring the population. The removal sparked widespread outrage and prompted lawsuits by National Parks Conservation Association, tribal partners and other conservation organizations. Montana took a cautious approach this year by not advancing a hunt; however, Wyoming’s shortsighted action reaffirms our concerns about the long-term health of the population.

Wyoming’s proposed hunt targets bears along the eastern and southern borders of Yellowstone and the western and southern boundaries of Grand Teton National Parks. As we all know, grizzlies don’t read border signs and move across large distances on a regular basis; therefore, national park bears face mortal threat should this aggressive hunting proposal move ahead. The plan even allows for some baiting of grizzlies — enticing bears with food for an easy kill. Baiting is a highly problematic method that goes well beyond ethical hunting tactics. Not all bears who are attracted to a bait station will be shot – but those bears will leave with an increased association that humans provide food.

Visitors to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks generated more than $1 billion ($1,089,000,000) in economic spending in 2017 and supported 16,040 jobs, based on a new economic report released by the Department of Interior on Wednesday. Given the magnitude of park visitation and its positive economic impacts, is killing national park grizzly bears the moment they cross over the park boundary really the image we want to portray to the rest of the country?

While the increase in the Yellowstone grizzly bear population achieved over the past 35 years was a wildlife conservation success story, it was still in-progress. The removal of Yellowstone grizzlies from protected species status, without providing adequate safeguards and legal commitments to ensure the population remains strong was a grievous mistake. The consequences of this shortsighted decision will only be exacerbated by Wyoming’s aggressive hunting proposal.

Americans have until April 30 to tell Wyoming Gov. Mead and Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission to halt their hunting proposal. So far more than 22,000 people have spoken up for bears through a petition led by National Parks Conservation Association, opposing the hunt due to concerns over the impact it could have on national park bears. And 165 former National Park Service employees have signed a letter against Wyoming’s proposal, through an action led by the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.

With over 1,500 members, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks represents more than 35,000 years of national park management experience. And as a nearly 100-year-old organization, created by the first National Park Service director, National Parks Conservation Association speaks on behalf of our 1.3 million members and supporters, in strong opposition to this hunting proposal.

We urge all Americans to join us in urging Wyoming Gov. Mead to halt this hunt to protect national park grizzlies. The iconic Yellowstone grizzly bear, and the American public who have long supported its conservation, deserve better.

Theresa Pierno is president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association; Phil Francis is the chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.