Utah's "bear problem" won't be solved by hunting

That dead boy surely seemed to scare a lot of Utahans, and not surprisingly the quota on bears is to be increased by 20% — good news for bear hunters in short run, but it will do little or nothing to reduce “problem bears” because the wrong bears will be killed.

Editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune.






  1. Tai Avatar

    Excellent info at the state of mass. website.


    Will hunting solve nuisance bear problems?

    If recreational hunting is to play a role in alleviating or controlling nuisance bear situations, such hunting must either: (1) reduce the bear population to levels where damage is eliminated or reduced to acceptable levels, (2) target specific bears or groups of bears involved in damage, or (3) function as an aversive conditioning technique to “teach” bears to cease offensive behavior.

    Hunting is often considered to be a management tool, rather than solely a recreational pursuit. Hunting is often the cheapest method, license fees support the managing agency’s activities, and fees and associated expenses place a value on the hunted animal, while damage-control kills devalue it. Hunting is rarely the only management option available but can be a useful component of an overall program, in addition to the cultural and social values inherent in recreational hunting. If hunting is necessary as a bear management tool, then we must necessarily: (1) understand the impact of hunting on bear behavior and population dynamics, (2) effectively regulate bear seasons to adjust harvest levels and sex and age composition, and (3) identify and target the desired population component. Our ability to address these aspects is often limited.

  2. cowboy the cat Avatar

    There is a successful bear control program in Mammoth Lakes, CA (I heard about it on NPR). The idea is so freaking logical, that it doesn’t make any sense why people don’t do it everywhere. Basically the guy that runs it, Steve Serles, just puts a healthy fear of humans back into the bears that are causing problems rather than killing them. He uses loud sounds to scare off bears, or rubber bullets, along with other methods, and through this “training” the bears start to avoid the hell out of people. It seems obvious, but people just don’t get it: If you kill a problem bear, a bear that knows nothing about people takes it’s place, and you have to kill that one too… On and on it goes. I hope more communities take on this type of program. Otherwise we’ll have more bear maulings, and unneeded killings.

  3. jimbob Avatar

    I still find it interesting that the quota is raised without considering what is a healthy population of bears. I have spoken out many times here in Arizona about the fact that quotas for many of our “game” animals do not change during droughts. What do you think is the ultimate effect on those populations? Especially on a species like black bears which reproduce slowly or not at all in droughts.

    Upping hunting quotas in response to an attack—wow, that took a genius. Why is science always ignored when it comes to politics? To answer my own question I’d say sound thinking and politics never go hand in hand because politics is mostly knee jerk reaction, which is what this black bear quota increase is.

  4. Linda Hunter Avatar
    Linda Hunter

    Tai could you explain how hunting is adverse conditioning in detail. I wonder if good hunters can teach the hunters who leave huge messes behind when they break camp not to do that by hunting them. If hunters hunted the bad hunters then would other hunters be better because they were afraid they would get killed too. . let’s see, they would have to talk to do that. . perhaps bears can talk. Or would those bad hunters come back in another life and remember? Perhaps just getting caught leaving the mess behind and threatened would do the trick. . but then they’d have to talk again. . Do you think that there is something about bears we don’t know yet . . that they communicate, because unless you have another idea, I do not see how else killing some bears will teach others. I am not being scarcastic about this. . I really want to know.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I’ve tried that argument before but was never cleaver enough to put it in the terms you did above. Great stuff!

  6. Tai Avatar

    Linda–the quote above is from the mass. wildlife dept., not me. I don’t buy the hunting is a form of aversive conditioning argument either. During the delisting process, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho all used the “hunting teaches bears to fear man” line, and Chris Servheen at the USFWS essentially said, “no way.” I’ll give you 1000/1 odds that when the states start legal grizzly hunts in the Yellowstone region next year, “hunting teaches bears to fear man and reduces the number of problem bears” is part of the rationale for the hunts.

    Here’s one of my all time favorite quotes on grizzly hunts in the Yellowstone area: “The grizzly bear has been considered a threatened species in most of the Lower 48 states and is protected under the Endangered Species Act. But near Yellowstone National Park, grizzzlies are making such a strong comeback that a limited amount of hunting may be permitted after the US Fish and Wildlife Service reviews grizzly status in the area . . . [W]hen protected bear populations increase the animals invade areas inhabited by humans and the bruins also begin to lose their fear of people and become potentially dangerous nuisances to hikers, backpackers, and campers. ‘We’ve reached the stage,’ says Montana game official Gene Allen, ‘where limited, controlled grizzly hunting is becoming a necessity.”

  7. Tai Avatar

    The quote above was published in Outdoor Life, March 1980. If memory serves me correctly, it was 1981 when state and federal officials finally admitted the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area may have dipped as low as 200 bears.

    Montana and Wyoming officials have made similar statements to the press dozens of times since 1980, and did it again in delisting plans. That’s why I expect more of the same when the states gear up for grizzly hunts.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan