The Grizzly: Till death due us part
A war wages in the vast valleys and basins of the Northwest, Grizzly bears (Ursus arctic horribilis) a name not soon forgotten. The role that trophy hunting plays in the Canadian economy and conservation goals has come under attack, there is no grander campaign then stopping the trophy bear hunt, elections are campaigned over it, facts squeezed, and buttons pushed. What do the environmentalist fractions say? what does the science say about this topic? and what moral obligations to we have as managers of the ecosystem when it comes to hunting. One thing to keep in mind is that biases play a powerful part in the way we think, if we sincerely want to understand this subject then we must cast those basis to the curb for a moment and read with an open mind. we all have biases towards certain topics, it is seldom something we even notice, we must try hard to let these basis go when understanding complicated issues.
Although many of us associate Grizzly bears with the mountains, when we take a step back in time most of us would be surprised to learn they where equally abundant on the great plains stretching out over the American west. The grizzly was the great plains counterpart to the lions of the Masai Mara, These plain bears followed the bison and grazed in the river valleys. Early European settlers found trouble and mentioned these bears often, there relationship was one of conflict as stated by William se IamMontagne, 1874 "About a mile off an immense grizzly bear was making for a cotton wood miles away and behind the bear came two men superbly mounted, armed to the teeth…. We could see distinctly the horses straining every muscle to overtake the bear who was equally anxious and making every effort to escape his pursuers”. This early relationship was one that lead to sever declines in grizzly numbers, The famous conservationist George Bird Grinnell wrote a telling text in 1917 accompanying exhibits in the museum of natural history, Far from being the aggressive giant carnivores of the early wilderness west, grizzlies “have become the shyest of game and are well-nigh extinct .” in barley a century, starting from the time of European contact in the west the grizzly stood on the brink of extinction. This dramatic reduction in grizzly numbers tells us a lot, the view of these early settlers was on of taming the wild, removing those that did not make way for progress, often still a common view within certain groups today.
The term trophy hunting was first employed in the United States and Canada during the 19th century when wildlife numbers were extremely depleted, so much so that if you where skilled enough to harvest anything, it was considered a trophy. The Boone and Crochet club was established during this time to document the largest animals on the landscape, these records where originally created so when glancing back we would understand what animals once roamed, for conservationists in that day firmly expected that many species would be lost. Over the years as wildlife numbers have recovered in numerous geographic locations that term has come to represent a different platform, in the modern context trophy hunting refers to harvesting the largest male member of a species, whether this carnivore or ungulate makes no difference. Science based wildlife management has evolved significantly in the past 30 years, the development of habitat modelling software has enabled biologists and managers to identify and carry out detailed predictions regarding populations. When used properly, and all variables taken into account "this is easier said then done" these models can yield results that accurately guide management decisions. To interpret these models, lets go into what is required of them. One of the major inputs into these population predictor models is that of population demographics. population demographics are critically important in all species and notably those of slow reproducing and low density species such as the Grizzly. understanding population demographics is commonly done by studying data of current and past surveys. Mortality, is the next variable that must be determined. biologists need to figure out both non-human deaths and human caused deaths. Human caused deaths are separated into categories, hunting and non-hunting (vehicle, railway, problem bears). Both non-human and non-hunting deaths can be estimated based on prior studies, these can be continually monitored in case significant changes emerge. Along with these two variables managers must take into account environmental conditions, land use values, and food availability on the landscape . British Columbia has allotted for removal of up to 6 percent of the grizzly population annually, this six percent includes all human caused mortality, of that six percent, two percent has been allotted to hunters and guide outfitters, this is no longer he case as all grizzly bear hunting in BC has been stopped.
However, with any model there is opportunity for error. stated by Mark Boyce during a provincial review of grizzly bear management in BC there is a high uncertainty in regards to the way that BC is monitoring and predicting bear populations. Findings that illustrate the six percent population removal rate mark have been exceeded regularly, contributing to population decline in certain bear populations. Since, this article focus on trophy hunting lets ask ourselves what implications does hunting in general play in grizzly bear management. Currently, the province has designated a 2 percent harvest estimate, this means that up to 2 percent of the population may be taken by hunters, this includes resident and guide outfitters. One issue that has been studied is the effect of specific cohort selection by hunters, this simply means that hunters are targeting a specific subset of the population: mature males. By removing mature males from the population there has been a noted increase in immigrant males, Immigrant males move into areas traditionally held by mature males, these immigrant males will kill cubs if they happen to find them. Because of this, female grizzlies have been observed to avoid these areas, even in cases with extremely high nutrient loads, this has resulted in reduced reproductive rates for female Grizzlies in some cases. Reductions in reproductive rates can have significant population effects over time as bears are a slow reproduces, the study and effects of mature male removal and the subsequent increase of immigrant males and their impact on reproductive rates is an area that requires further investigation as there has been conflicting findings. Although hunters will target mature males, often first bear spotted is harvested, since grizzly seasons are present in both spring and fall we can run in to problems with female bears being harvested when cubs are no longer present in fall. It is estimated that female harvest rates have been exceeded in numerous cases, this has powerful effects on population health in both the short and long term. One potential solution to this is to restrict the grizzly hunt to spring only, this would likely eliminate most cases of mistaken sex and reduce the amount of females taken. This is a topic worth discussing in my opinion as high female mortality is something that can not be tolerated. Although hunter caused mortality is apparent in populations, the undeniable and accepted main concern regarding grizzly bear conservation is that of appropriate habitat management. As, human populations increase and new resource opportunities present themselves ecosystem management will play an even larger role. While even removing a few bears from a population can have dramatic impacts, hunting can be a sustainable practice when regulated based on proper population dynamics, Grizzly bears must be managed at the population level as each population is distinct in its range and habitat requirements. The backlash that trophy hunting and hunting in general receives from special interest and public groups is often based on subjective and moral grounds, seldom helpful when managing wildlife populations.
- "Scientific management of wildlife requires confronting the complexities of natural and social systems. Uncertainty poses a central problem. Whereas the importance of considering uncertainty has been widely discussed, studies of the effects of unaddressed uncertainty on real management systems have been rare. We examined the effects of outcome uncertainty and components of biological uncertainty on hunt management performance, illustrated with grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in British Columbia, Canada. We found that both forms of uncertainty can have serious impacts on management performance. Outcome uncertainty alone – discrepancy between expected and realized mortality levels – led to excess mortality in 19% of cases (population-years) examined. Accounting for uncertainty around estimated biological parameters (i.e., biological uncertainty) revealed that excess mortality might have occurred in up to 70% of cases. We offer a general method for identifying targets for exploited species that incorporates uncertainty and maintains the probability of exceeding mortality limits below specified thresholds. Setting targets in our focal system using this method at thresholds of 25% and 5% probability of overmortality would require average target mortality reductions of 47% and 81%, respectively. Application of our transparent and generalizable framework to this or other systems could improve management performance in the presence of uncertainty.” - Kyle Artelle
Grizzly hunting appears to provoke an immediate reaction, it doesn’t matter if you are a hunter or non-hunter. The non-hunting community is often pushing extremely hard to end the trophy hunting for grizzly bear, why only grizzly bear? this question is also one that needs answers, I suspect that the large charismatic grizzly has a special place in many hearts. As stated above, a problem occurs when we begin taking subjective experiences and try comparing them to objective outcomes. As every person possesses unique views, we frequently seek to confirm our views, this process is often referred to as confirmation bias, this implies that you will look for and seek views and opinions that reinforce your feelings or views on a subject. When pressed individuals on the anti hunting side tend to fall apart in their arguments, alleging that hunting grizzlies is bad, and by hunting, population decline is unavoidable. Since using subjective views in science is a bad idea, it is one that should not be granted as grounds for decisions. However, I feel that though this group my disagree with hunting, their ideas and concerns are in the right place. concern over the environment should never be viewed as something negative, with that said, everybody needs to understand what the most important issues are. This is where I like to bring up the 80/20 rule, this rule states that you can accomplish 80% of your work by focusing on the most important 20%, by focusing on the most important 20% of work you are able to accomplish and trim the fat of unnecessary process. Surveys and continuous monitoring have advised us that the number one threats facing Grizzly bear and most species is habitat alteration and loss. Sensitivity of keystone species to habitat change is something that has been studied extensively, we know that they are displaced extremely fast. I would urge individuals who hold anti-hunting views for the reasons that it is the cause of declining grizzly populations to take a serious look at what issues are affecting grizzly populations. if morality is the basis that individuals disagree with hunting then they remain free to express that. However, they must understand that their own subjective views can not be applied as a basis for conservation goals.
As more people move to larger metropolises and leave the rural lifestyle behind, attitudes seem to change, more and more we are seeing a shift, one that is concerned with animal welfare and rights. This departure from strictly a utilitarian stand point and view held by many rule community members is of significance and worth investigating. As wildlife mangers the role they often find themselves in is expressing the mass views regarding conservation and land use, as times and views change this must be reflected in those management objectives. Is it unfair to say that rural families and individuals who support hunting and resource consumption on a utilitarian level have less say in a resource. They may be heavier resource users but there is often a miss-alignment with urban members. The fact is that resources such as wildlife, fisheries, ecosystems, wilderness are owned by the Canadian public, because of this, majority views on environmental issues are extremely important. One thing I do feel compelled to mention is that of funds directed towards management, wildlife, fisheries, and ecosystem health is severely lacking. Hunters and anglers play a significant role in funding many projects and research, fees from hunting and fishing licenses are used to fund these research projects and management objectives. However, there needs to be more contribution from other resource users, this includes, hikers, campers, photographers, adventure sports, industry (logging, mining, agriculture). If these resource users want to enjoy the abundance of opportunity that we have, then there should be an effort to provide support. I am in strong supporter of the United states model of resource funding, they have applied a small tax on all outdoor gear, this includes hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, this tax is collected at a federal level and split among the states in order to fund ecosystem management, projects and research. A great example of the extraordinary amounts of funds produced by this is reflected when we compare Idaho and British Columbia. British Columbia’s annual budget for wildlife and fisheries, and ecosystem management is around 35 million, we compare this to Idaho which is one third the size of British Columbia and we see that they have an annual budget of just over 100 million. Money is not a favorite topic, it is one however that needs to be looked at, if we as Canadian citizens want to continue enjoying the wildlife and wild places we have, then it is our duty to say this, this also means contributing a little more when it comes to research and conservation efforts.
I myself am a hunter and many people do not agree with me that hunting is an ethical approach to acquire your food, I must acknowledge that reality, and as generations pass I may find that I have more or less hunting opportunity, if this is the intention of public opinion I have little choice but to agree or express the cases where i object, if ecosystem health is to blame for declining populations then we have a much larger concern. So I guess the question becomes do we continue a trophy hunt for grizzly bears? My response to this question is complicated, if you base the decision on morals then every person will have a different view, however the question whether or not it is morally acceptable is an entirely different conversation, one that would take us on an endless back and forth. The question then becomes, can the environment maintain a grizzly hunt? The answer to that question is currently yes, however, the grizzly hunt should and will presumably be the first thing eliminated as soon as grizzly populations are suspected to be in decline, further funding and research needs to go into best practices as stated by Mark Boyce during the provincial review.
The relationship between the public and bears has in the past been symbolic of the larger relationship between man and nature, how we deal with grizzly bears may in fact predict the outcome of our greater relationship with the environment. Unless we can deal with real problems of rapid land use change, grizzly population concerns will be but a mere diversion as we seal our wildernesses fate. The final question may not be one in which are there enough grizzlies left to hunt but rather one of do we kill members of a species to which the majority of the public has ascribed special value. under such circumstances, the transition of the grizzly from a symbol of savagery to one of environmental integrity becomes complete and puts current management objectives in direct conflict with the emotional perspective of the public. If status quo management objectives are to be followed then mangers must confront this reality with morally defensible arguments. This is not impossible but does require a new way of looking at wildlife management. The grizzly may attain “medicine” status for North America in general and wildlife managers in particular. To have appropriate representation of the desires of the public will likely intensify as values change, we must remember however, that non-scientific approaches that have little measurable effects can not be used. In the border context of wildlife and ecosystem management I think we must decide as a country what value these species and systems have in our lives, If we look to where people have lived the longest some of our answer may be answered. To say this fate is sealed is naive, one must posses optimism that we can increase our appreciation and values towards our fellow species. The term conservation as often plagued me as one that needs revamping, I am not sure what a new term would be maybe "growth management" but what it should represent is not conserving what we have left but finding ways to increase habitat, wildlife, fisheries, and overall health of our forests and ranges. If conserving and maintaining is the goal I fear we may be headed down a path that ends in fewer and fewer wild places, values must be shown, steps taken and scientific suggestions implemented.
October 15, 2017