Stories From Your Mountain
BY: SHAWN BLAJSZCZAK
March 14, 2019
Is Hunting a Right?
People have hunted and fished for subsistence and sport since first arriving in what is now the United States of America. This hunting and fishing heritage has evolved throughout history. Commercial hunting decimated game animals in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In response, conservationists like Aldo Leopold and Theodore Roosevelt lead the charge for the protection and management of our wildlife resources thru better practices and regulations, leading to the rise of the North American Model for Wildlife Management–the gold standard for wildlife management in the world.
The North American Model states that every citizen should have equal opportunity to harvest wildlife but does allow for regulations and laws to conserve and manage wildlife. Hunters, anglers, and other conservationists have always worked cooperatively to identify better ways to manage wildlife and fund wildlife management, while preserving our hunting and fishing heritage.
Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, groups formed to attack that heritage. Over the course of decades, these new animal rights organizations gained influence in state legislatures to ban hunting for certain species, traditional methods of take, and other hunting practices. For example, 11 states prohibit hunting mourning doves, California banned hunting mountain lions, and New Jersey banned hunting black bears on state land–largely on political, not biological grounds.
In response to these increasing threats, and to protect our hunting and fishing heritage for the future, concerned hunters and anglers took action. Since the mid 1990’s, hunters and anglers have advocated for states to adopt constitutional provisions preserving and protecting an individual’s right to hunt and fish. This type of constitutional right is not a new idea.
When the United States was first established in the late 18th century, hunting and fishing was a part of life for everyone. This directly rejected British laws that made hunting and fishing available to only select groups of citizens. Vermont was the first state to expressly reject British law when made hunting and fishing a constitutional right in 1777. Vermont’s Constitution predated the United States Constitution by fourteen years. In fact, Vermont originally sought independence as its own country prior to becoming part of the United States. Chapter 2 Section 67 of the Vermont Constitution expresses the hunting and fishing right:
The inhabitants of this State shall have liberty in seasonable times, to hunt and fowl on the lands they hold, and on other lands not enclosed, and in like manner to fish in all boatable and other waters (not private property) under proper regulations, to be made and provided by the General Assembly.
More than 200 years later, in 1996, Alabama adopted an amendment into its constitution to protect the right to hunt and fish. Since then 20 other states in the past 21 years have passed amendments to their constitutions to protect or acknowledge the right to hunt, fish and/or take wildlife. Two additional states have passed statutes providing similar protections and two states have constitutional rights for only fishing. The scope and power of these rights vary from state to state.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), in cooperation with various other entities, developed model legislation for states to utilize when considering Right to Hunt and Fish (RTHF) language for proposed legislation. Its suggested language reads,
The citizens of this State have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including the use of traditional methods, subject only to statutes enacted by the Legislature and regulations adopted by the designated agency [or “fish and game commission” or state-specific term] to promote wildlife conservation and management and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights.
States have utilized and/or adopted the proposed language to varying degrees. Not all states follow this framework. Even states that did adopt this framework made modification to address particular constituent concerns.
Constitutional amendments for the right to hunt and fish can be generally grouped into two categories:
1) Those that recognize an individual right to hunt, fish, and/or take wildlife (with some legal teeth)
2) Those that are more of a symbolic gesture, recognizing the heritage of hunting and fishing, but not recognizing an individual right (without legal teeth)
Stronger state constitutional rights typically follow the NRA-ILA RTHF language fairly closely (group 1), while others are fairly vague, brief and offer only a symbolic gesture (group 2). At the end of this article, you can see all the current right to hunt, fish and/or take wildlife language from states which currently possess such rights, so you can make your own decisions on their scope and effectiveness.
Momentum for the adoption of similar rights in other states continues to grow. These state constitutional rights to hunt and fish help preserve the North American Model for Wildlife Management and our hunting and fishing heritage. Whether or not your state has adopted a constitutional right to hunt and fish, all 50 states currently allow hunting and fishing, so get out there and make some memories enjoying our great natural resources because you may just find Your Mountain.
State Constitutional Hunting/Fishing Provisions
Article 1 Section 38
Right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.
The right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife is a valued part of the State’s heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good. The people have a right, including the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to laws enacted by the General Assembly and rules adopted pursuant to authority granted by the General Assembly to (i) promote wildlife conservation and management and (ii) preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. Nothing herein shall be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or eminent domain.
Bill of Rights Section 21
Right of public to hunt, fish and trap wildlife. The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or water resources.
Article I Section 39
(a) The right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife:
(1) is a valued part of Indiana’s heritage; and
(2) shall be forever preserved for the public good.
(b) The people have a right, which includes the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to the laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly to:
(1) promote wildlife conservation and management; and
(2) preserve the future of hunting and fishing.
(c) Hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.
(d) This section shall not be construed to limit the application of any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights.
Article I Section 34
(a) The people have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to laws or regulations to conserve and manage wildlife and preserve the future of hunting and fishing.
(b) Hunting and fishing are preferred methods of managing and controlling wildlife.
(c) This section does not affect any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or eminent domain.
(d) This section does not affect the power of the legislature to authorize a municipality to regulate the discharge of a weapon in a populated area in the interest of public safety.
Article III Section 12A
The people have the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject only to laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing, as the Legislature may prescribe by general law. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, the regulation of commercial activities or the maintenance of levees pursuant to Article 11.
Article II Section 39
Opportunity to hunt, fish and trap. The opportunity to fish, hunt and trap wildlife is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state, subject to regulation as prescribed by law, and does not create a right to trespass on private property, diminish other private rights or alter the duty of the state to manage wildlife.
Article XV Section 25
Right to hunt, to fish, and to harvest wildlife; public hunting, fishing, and harvesting of wildlife; preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.
The citizens of Nebraska have the right to hunt, to fish, and to harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject only to laws, rules, and regulations regarding participation and that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting, fishing, and harvesting of wildlife. Public hunting, fishing, and harvesting of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to Article XV, section 4, Article XV, section 5, Article XV, section 6, or Article XV, section 7, of this constitution.
Personal right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife – Limitations.
The citizens of Kentucky have the personal right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, using traditional methods, subject only to statutes enacted by the Legislature, and to administrative regulations adopted by the designated state agency to promote wildlife conservation and management and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or the regulation of commercial activities.
Article I Section 23
The rights to hunt, fish and trap. The rights to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the State of Idaho and shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through the laws, rules and proclamations that preserve the future of hunting, fishing and trapping. Public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife. The rights set forth herein do not create a right to trespass on private property, shall not affect rights to divert, appropriate and use water, or establish any minimum amount of water in any water body, shall not lead to a diminution of other private rights, and shall not prevent the suspension or revocation, pursuant to statute enacted by the Legislature, of an individual’s hunting, fishing or trapping license.
Article XI Section 13
The General Assembly shall have the power to enact laws for the protection and preservation of game and fish, within the state, and such laws may be enacted for and applied and enforced in particular counties or geographical districts, designated by the General Assembly. The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.
South Carolina 2010
Article I Section 25
Hunting and Fishing.
The traditions of hunting and fishing are valuable parts of the state’s heritage, important for conservation, and a protected means of managing nonthreatened wildlife. The citizens of this State have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife traditionally pursued, subject to laws and regulations promoting sound wildlife conservation and management as prescribed by the General Assembly. Nothing in this section shall be construed to abrogate any private property rights, existing state laws or regulations, or the state’s sovereignty over its natural resources.
Article I Amendment 88 Section 1
(a) (1) Citizens of the state of Arkansas have a right to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest wildlife.
(2) The right to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest wildlife shall be subject only t 1 o regulations that promote sound wildlife conservation and management and are consistent with Amendment 35 of the Arkansas Constitution.
(b) Public hunting, fishing, and trapping shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling nonthreatened species and citizens may use traditional methods for harvesting wildlife.
(c) Nothing in this amendment shall be construed to alter, repeal, or modify:
(1) Any provision of Amendment 35 to the Arkansas Constitution;
(2) Any common law or statute relating to trespass, private property rights, eminent domain, public ownership of property, or any law concerning firearms unrelated to hunting; or
(3) The sovereign immunity of the State of Arkansas.
Article 2 Section 36
Right to hunt, fish, trap and harvest game and fish.
All citizens of this state shall have a right to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest game and fish, subject only to reasonable regulation as prescribed by the Legislature and the Wildlife Conservation Commission. The Wildlife Conservation Commission shall have the power and authority to approve methods, practices and procedures for hunting, trapping, fishing and the taking of game and fish. Traditional methods, practices and procedures shall be allowed for taking game and fish that are not identified as threatened by law or by the Commission. Hunting, fishing, and trapping shall be the preferred means of managing game and fish that are not identified as threatened by law or by the Commission. Nothing in this section shall be construed to modify any provision of common law or statutes relating to trespass, eminent domain, or any other property rights.
Article I Section I Paragraph XXVIII
Fishing and hunting.
The tradition of fishing and hunting and the taking of fish and wildlife shall be preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good.
Article IX Section 7
Preservation of harvest heritage.
The opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights.
Article 1 Section 27
Freedom to Hunt, Fish and Trap
The freedom to hunt, fish, and trap wildlife, including all aquatic life, traditionally taken by hunters, trappers and anglers, is a valued natural heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people. Hunting, fishing and trapping shall be managed by law and regulation consistent with Article IX, Section I of the Constitution of Louisiana to protect, conserve and replenish the natural resources of the state. The provisions of this Section shall not alter the burden of proof requirements otherwise established by law for any challenge to a law or regulation pertaining to hunting, fishing or trapping the wildlife of the state, including all aquatic life. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to authorize the use of private property to hunt, fish, or trap without the consent of the owner of the property.
Article 1 Section 26
Right to fish, hunt, trap, and take game.
The people have the right to fish, hunt, trap, and take game subject only to reasonable restrictions as prescribed by law.
Article XI Conservation Section 4
Right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest game
The people have a right to hunt, fish, and harvest game, subject to such regulations and restrictions as the General Assembly may prescribe by general law.
North Dakota 2000
Article XI Section 27
Hunting, trapping, and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage and will be forever preserved for the people and managed by law and regulation for the public good.
Article XIII Section 12
Preservation of hunting and fishing.
Hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good.
Alabama 1996 and 2014
Amendment to Section 39.02
(a) The people have a right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable regulations, to promote wildlife conservation and management, and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Hunting by the public and fishing by the public shall be the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This amendment shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to eminent domain, trespass, or property rights.
(b) This amendment shall be known as the “Sportsperson’s Bill of Rights.”
Chapter II General Provisions Section 67
[HUNTING; FOWLING AND FISHING]
The inhabitants of this State shall have liberty in seasonable times, to hunt and fowl on the lands they hold, and on other lands not inclosed, and in like manner to fish in all boatable and other waters (not private property) under proper regulations, to be made and provided by the General Assembly.
California (Right to Fish only) 1910
Article 1 Section 25
The people shall have the right to fish upon and from the public lands of the State and in the waters thereof, excepting upon lands set aside for fish hatcheries, and no land owned by the State shall ever be sold or transferred without reserving in the people the absolute right to fish thereupon; and no law shall ever be passed making it a crime for the people to enter upon the public lands within this State for the purpose of fishing in any water containing fish that have been planted therein by the State; provided, that the legislature may by statute, provide for the season when and the conditions under which the different species of fish may be taken.
Rhode Island (Fishing Only)
Article 1 Section 17
Fishery rights – Shore privileges – Preservation of natural resources. — The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore; and they shall be secure in their rights to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values; and it shall be the duty of the general assembly to provide for the conservation of the air, land, water, plant, animal, mineral and other natural resources of the state, and to adopt all means necessary and proper by law to protect the natural environment of the people of the state by providing adequate resource planning for the control and regulation of the use of the natural resources of the state and for the preservation, regeneration and restoration of the natural environment of the state.
Title XXVIII Chapter 379
Right to hunt and fish.—The Legislature recognizes that hunting, fishing, and the taking of game are a valued part of the cultural heritage of Florida and should be forever preserved for Floridians. The Legislature further recognizes that these activities play an important part in the state’s economy and in the conservation, preservation, and management of the state’s natural areas and resources. Therefore, the Legislature intends that the citizens of Florida have a right to hunt, fish, and take game, subject to the regulations and restrictions prescribed by general law and by s. 9, Art. IV of the State Constitution.
New Hampshire Statute
Title XVIII Chapter 207
Purpose. – The legislature finds it is in the best interests of the state and its citizens to regulate, protect, restore, and conserve the wildlife resources of the state under a uniform scheme of management through the fish and game department. It is the intent of the general court to explicitly reaffirm the state’s long-standing exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the wildlife of the state as established by title XVIII. The general court further finds that it is in the best interest of the state and its citizens that the fish and game department recognize, preserve, and promote our special heritage of hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife viewing by providing opportunities to hunt, fish, trap, and view wildlife in accordance with title XVIII.
BY: SHAWN BLAJSZCZAK
February 16, 2019
Cow, Plow, Axe, Fire, and Gun
Cow, plow, axe, fire, and gun. These five things are Aldo Leopold’s keys to conservation from his book, Game Management, published in 1933. These five keys have allowed us to manage game at desired levels for decades. Today we know that they are also key to keeping a natural mosaic of flora and fauna through the manipulation of successional stages of vegetative communities as well as altering the wildlife community.
For example, large bison herds used to roam the great plains. These marauding herds of bison were indiscriminate foragers and could clear entire swaths of landscape in days. This created a natural mosaic of successional stage plant communities across the plains, which in turn provided home to diverse wildlife.
Without these herds and with new land ownership patterns, we must use some of the five techniques to try and replicate this former natural system. Ranchers may use high intensity short-term rotational grazing to mimic bison grazing in the past. In this case, livestock are essential to managing for more natural wildlife and plant communities. This is just one example of how the 5 keys have been used over the years.
Today, we use methods that no one understood in Leopold’s day, such as creating highway overpasses for animals. These overpasses help prevent vehicle strikes and help maintain wildlife migration corridors. Overpasses, and other new methods of manipulation, are consistent with Leopold’s suggestion that man can, and should, use tools to conserve wildlife and habitat. As our understanding of the natural world and its systems continues to expand, so to do the innovative methods used to conserve our resources. Just imagine what the next generation of wildlife and land managers can do!
BY: DAVID WILLMS
June 22, 2018 (reprinted from Feb. 29, 2016, Article)
(NOTE: This article was written more than two year ago, so some of the dollar amounts referenced have likely changed since then.)
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) listed grizzly bears in the lower 48 states as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) on July 28, 1975. At the time, scientists believed as few as 136 bears remained in the Greater Yellowstone Area (“GYA”). Now, after four decades of conservation efforts, biologists estimate approximately 700, and likely many more, bears reside in the GYA. Rightfully, the FWS now stands at the precipice of deslisting those bears.
Instead of celebrating this conservation success story, and shifting efforts to recovering truly imperiled species, some people actively advocate for continued ESA protections for the bear. These individuals are often blinded by passion for a charismatic mega-fauna, distrust of state wildlife agencies, and a dogma of perpetual species protection. Consequently, as described below, their efforts are rooted in a series of claims that largely ignore science, and the language of the ESA.
Claim #1: Yellowstone Grizzly Bears have not recovered enough to warrant delisting
Reality: Grizzly Bears have met every recovery metric for more than a dozen years, and there are no known threats to the bear’s long-term survival.
The language of ESA compels the FWS to delist recovered species. Two provisions are particularly important. Section 4(f)(1)(B)(ii) contemplates the creation of species recovery plans that result in species delisting when measurable criteria are met. Specifically, section Section 4(f)(1)(B)(ii) states recovery plans shall use, “objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination…that the species be removed from the list.”
Section 4(b)(1)(A)-(E) lists the five factors that the FWS must evaluate (using the best available science) when determining whether a species warrants ESA protection. Those factors are, “(A) the present or threatened destruction, modification or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.”
By either metric, the grizzly population of the GYA no longer warrants ESA protection. First, bears have exceed all population objectives in its recovery plan. That plan required several things: (1) maintain a minimum population size of 500 animals; (2) maintain a minimum of 48 females with cubs of the year in the GYA (cannot drop below 48 for any two consecutive years); (3) 16 of 18 bear management units must be occupied by females with young, with no two adjacent bear management units unoccupied; and (4) do not exceed annual mortality limits for males or females (males no more than three consecutive years, females no more than two). Notably, states have met each of these objectives since 2003.
Second, no existing threats affect the bear’s continued existence. The FWS attempted to delist the GYA bears in 2007 and conducted a threat analysis based upon the five-factor test of the ESA. In a lawsuit challenging that delisting, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the FWS failed to consider one potential threat to the grizzly’s survival–the effects of a decline in whitebark pine trees resulting from a pine beetle epidemic (the tree’s seeds are a grizzly bear food source).
In response to the 9th Circuit decision, biologists immediately began to study the impacts of declining whitebark pine on GYA grizzlies. The results showed no negative population impact to grizzly bears in the GYA from whitebark pine declines. With the only outstanding question from the court that prevented deslisting in 2007 answered, and all recovery metrics met, deslisting is appropriate.
Claim #2: Grizzly Bears Should Inhabit all of their Historic Range Prior to Delisting.
Reality: This cannot be done, and is not required by the ESA.
If returning species to all of its historic range were a recovery standard, the FWS would never delist a species, which runs counter to the understood purposes of the ESA. As recently as the 1850s, grizzly bears inhabited the San Francisco Bay Area. Other bears roamed the now plowed plains of Idaho, Kansas and Colorado. As troubling as it may be to admit, large swaths of the United States are no longer suitable for many species that once inhabited them–including grizzly bears.
Are there areas of historic range that could support grizzly bear populations? Perhaps, but the ESA does not require restoration of a species to all of its historic range or even to a majority of its suitable habitat. Instead, the ESA requires that a species, or sub-population of a species, recover to the point that they are no longer at risk of becoming endangered or extinct in the foreseeable future. That’s it. When a species meets that standard, as grizzly bears have in the GYA, the ESA requires the FWS delist that species.
Of course, nothing in the ESA prevents individuals from continuing to pursue recovery of grizzlies in currently unoccupied areas upon delisting of one population segment. However, the ESA does not permit delaying appropriate species delisting until those unoccupied areas become occupied.
Claim #3: States are Incapable of Managing Grizzly Bears
Reality: State management played a significant role in grizzly bear recovery. Further, Congress contemplated a significant role for state management of listed species.
Not only are states capable of successfully managing grizzly bears, their track record since 1975 of recovering grizzly bears is well documented. States study population dynamics, genetics, distribution, and other aspects of bear biology. States trap and relocate problem bears, educate the public about the need for and proper use of bear spray, and encourage proper methods for storing attractants to prevent bear habituation. States provide financial incentives to landowners and engage in public education to ensure that local residents accept bears. These efforts, among others, were instrumental in bringing populations up from 136 bears just 40 years ago, to roughly 700 today.
States invest significant resources in grizzly bear management. Wyoming spent $2,278,218 on grizzly bear management in 2015, and $11,551,584 from 2010-2015. Montana’s and Idaho’s annual expenditures total $875,000 and $200,000, respectfully. With an estimated 714 bears in the GYA in 2015, the states are spending roughly $4596 on each bear annually. Comparatively, Idaho spends $6,791 annually per child on k-12 education.
In addition to decades of state management aiding bear recovery, Congress intended states to manage listed species. In fact, Congress envisioned a system where states would enter into cooperative agreements with the FWS to manage and recover listed species. Congress recognized through Section 6 of the ESA, that for the ESA to succeed, the FWS would have to rely on the states’ technical expertise, superior regional staffing, and infrastructure. The vision of Section 6 has not materialized; yet, states continually show their effectiveness in managing and recovering species.
Finally, skeptics of state management often express concern that GYA bears will instantly suffer catastrophic population declines at the hands of state wildlife managers. This assertion lacks any factual basis, other than to cite the bygone era of large predator extermination – of which the federal government shares guilt. States will implement a multi-agency agreed upon, conservative conservation strategy. This strategy will include population, mortality, and distribution objectives aimed to ensure GYA grizzlies never warrant ESA protections again. All of this establishes that states are effective and committed wildlife managers. Of course, the ESA provides multiple mechanisms for reestablishing protections for the bear if warranted.
Claim #4: The population is too small and isolated to ensure long-term viability
Reality: Though the GYA population is isolated from other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states, it inhabits a large geographic area, and will remain genetically viable for the foreseeable future.
The GYA covers approximately 34,375 square miles – an area roughly the size of Indiana. Of that, about 17,774 square miles are deemed suitable grizzly bear habitat. Grizzly bears currently occupy 16,286 square miles–roughly 90% of suitable habitat. This occupied area is nearly the size of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware combined. Occupied lands currently host a conservative estimate of roughly 700 bears, though many leading experts believe that number is likely much higher. When the FWS first attempted to delist bears in 2007, it indicated that 100 bears was the minimum viable population, and 400 as the number required to ensure genetic viability. Populations have exceeded these thresholds for years.
Further, a recent study published in Molecular Ecology confirms that the population remains genetically viable. That study shows that grizzly populations have grown continually since the 1980s, when populations were in the low 200s, with no loss of genetic diversity. In layman’s terms, the study establishes that bears have not inbred, and the viability of this population is secure into the foreseeable future.
Claim #5: People Should not be Permitted to Hunt Grizzly Bears
Reality: This objection is purely philosophical. Legally, once the FWS delists the bear, states are free to use hunting as a management tool as they do for many other species.
The ESA generally does not permit hunting listed species (though Congress may contemplate it in certain cases for threatened species). People have not hunted grizzlies in the GYA since they were listed in 1975. Yet, hunting could occur once the FWS delists the grizzly bear. On a philosophical, and visceral level, some people find it troubling that a species once nearly hunted, trapped, and poisoned to extinction could find itself hunted again. However, from a legal perspective, states are free to use hunting as a management tool for delisted species, unless hunting jeopardizes the continued existence of the species.
Hunting grizzly bears will not jeopardize their continued existence. The States will employ very conservative discretionary mortality limits for bears, which may include, among other forms of mortality, hunting and removal of habituated or aggressive bears. When mortality limits are met, the states will adjust their management accordingly to ensure stable grizzly populations in the GYA. If they do not act conservatively, states risk the prospect of the FWS relisting the GYA grizzly–something no state wants.
Claim #6: Habitat is at high risk of destruction.
Reality: In the Greater Yellowstone Area, the risk of substantial habitat fragmentation/destruction is quite low.
In some parts of the country, habitat fragmentation presents a significant threat to the long-term survival of species. However, habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Area remains largely in-tact. Roughly 3/4 of land in the Greater Yellowstone Area is federal or other public land with very little prospect of development. Wyoming alone hosts 8,758 square miles of wilderness or national park in the GYA–an area roughly the size of New Hampshire, and larger than New Jersey.
Additionally, grizzly bears have not suffered from what little habitat fragmentation has occurred over the years. Specifically, grizzly bear range expanded 11% during the 1980s and another 34% during the 1990s. Expansion continues, albeit at a slower pace as suitable habitat for bears reaches its carrying capacity in the GYA. FWS correctly concluded habitat destruction presented little risk to the GYA grizzly in 2007 when it originally pursued delisting, and it continues to present little risk today.
Claim #7: 50,000 bears once roamed the lower 48 states, so the 2,000 currently in the lower 48 are not enough.
Reality: Scientists cannot verify the estimate of 50,000 bears, and 2,000 bears sufficiently ensures bears will not become endangered or go extinct.
Biologists, politicians, and grizzly bear advocates often cite that grizzly bear numbers in the lower 48 states have dropped from over 50,000 bears roughly 200 years ago, to approximately 2,000 bears today. While there are almost certainly fewer grizzly bears today than existed 200 years ago, claiming 50,000 with any level of certainty is at best unreliable. One must only look at scientists’ lack of precision when estimating current populations to understand the unreliability of estimates from 200 years ago.
Scientists have a host of scientific methods available to them to estimate populations today, including among other things: DNA, GPS collars, aerial surveys, and motion sensor cameras. Even using the best scientific data available, scientists are only able to estimate with 95% confidence that bears in the GYA numbered between 674 and 839 bears in 2014. Of course, the same scientists explain that the estimator provides conservative results, and the actual number of bears may be much higher. Clearly, if estimating living bears in a geographic range the size of Indiana lacks precision, population estimates targeting conditions on the entire continent 200 years ago must be viewed with some skepticism.
All that said, historic estimates are not the gauge for determining whether a listed species warrants continued ESA protection. Instead, the FWS makes a determination, pursuant to the five-factor test of ESA, whether a species is likely to become endangered or extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the foreseeable future.
In the case of the the GYA grizzly bear population, bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives for over a dozen years, and there are no known threats to the continued survival of the species. FWS rightfully concludes that based upon the best available science, the GYA grizzly bear does not risk becoming endangered or extinct in the foreseeable future.
Finally, ESA still provides a safety net for the bear. If the states do not adequately manage bears, or grizzly populations decline to the point that they are again in jeopardy, the FWS can relist the bear. Knowing the challenges that come with an ESA listing, and the public’s desire to see bears on the landscape, states have an incentive to conserve the bear for the enjoyment of future generations.
In short, for biological and legal reasons, it is time to declare success under the ESA, and delist the GYA grizzly bear population.
Update: On March 11, 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule to delist the GYA population of grizzly bears. The FWS will take comments on the proposed rule and an accompanying draft Conservation Strategy until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on May 10, 2016. You can submit comments by going to the Federal eRulemaking Portal at : https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R6-ES-2016-0042-0001 and clicking on the “Comment Now” button.
Update 2: On June 22, 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision to issue a final delisting rule for the GYA population of grizzly bears. The final delisting rule is available for review on the FWS website, and will publish in the Federal Register in the coming days. The final rule will go into effect 30 days after publication, and at that time bears will be managed by Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho officials pursuant to their respective approved Grizzly Bear Management Plans.
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Photo credits: Population chart: David Willms; Historic Distribution: P. McLoughlin; GYA Grizzly Bear Boundary Map: Wyoming Game and Fish Department; Land Ownership/Development Map: National Park Service
BY: DAVID WILLMS
June 4, 2018
Welcome to YOUR MOUNTAIN
There are more than 2.4 billion acres of land and water in the United States. We rely on this land for everything that makes the United States a prosperous nation. Mining supports our electricity, military, technology, renewable, and infrastructure needs. Agriculture feeds our growing population. Oil and gas fuels our trains, planes, and automobiles. Forests provide materials for homes and the paper products we demand. Water is the lifeblood for it all. Yet, this land and water provides so much more.
They support a national recreational economy that surpassed $800 billion in 2017. Whether you hunt, fish, backpack, ski, hike, photograph wildlife, mountain bike, or partake in myriad other outdoor activities, you contribute to this number every year. The activities are important to you, and no doubt you want to keep recreating – I know that’s what I want.
Land management is complicated. Managers must balance the basic needs of the nation (food, water, shelter, security), with other important needs like open spaces, vibrant wildlife populations, clean air and water, and places to recreate. Sometimes these needs mesh well together, other times they breed controversy. That’s where YOUR MOUNTAIN can help.
Our mission is simple – educate and entertain. If there’s a big decision affecting your land, water and wildlife we want you to know about it. Each week, the YOUR MOUNTAIN podcast will bring thought leaders, experts, and entertainers to the show to tackle pressing issues in a thoughtful, pragmatic, and entertaining way. Thank you for joining us on this exciting journey. Subscribe to the podcast, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and find us at itsyourmountain.com.
Welcome to Your Mountain.