Global Warming, Killer Bears?

Obama’s Abandonment of the West

Grizzly feeding on elk © Ken Cole

Doug Peacock continues to enrich the debate over grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem :

Global Warming, Killer Bears? Doug Peacock, Counterpunch

Biologists sometimes like to quibble that losing the grizzly because of the collapse of whitebark pine forests may be the least of our ecological worries. Ecosystems are, of course, founded on the backs of bugs and bacteria not bears. But there is another argument, less scientific, for keeping a few grizzlies around: the American grizzly bear, especially the isolated population marooned on the island of Yellowstone Park, stands alone in defiance of human arrogance. It is the single North American animal who challenges our dominion, reminds us that we are not top dog in the wilderness or within the food pyramid.


  1. Virginia Avatar

    Wow! Everyone who reads this blog should read Doug’s article in its entirety. He is so right on about the politics of the grizzly and the ignoring of the science. It is a travesty the way the USFWS is operating, as he said, with the Bush-era mentality. I do not understand how the recovery team has become a delisting team – what is the matter with them?

    1. jon Avatar

      Yep, Doug Peacock knows his stuff. Hell, I would take his word on bears over one of these supposed “bear experts” that work for the usfws any day of the week. People care very little about science nowadays it seems. Some want these bears with slow reproductive rates delisted so they can be hunted for trophies. It is time to stop catering to the demands of the special interest groups.

      1. Save bears Avatar

        I am all for stopping the catering to the demands of special interest groups, and that includes the ones you advocate for as well Jon..

      2. JimT Avatar

        Someday, someone is going to have to explain to me, one..what a special interest group is, and two, how to a tell a good one from a bad one.

        It seems to be one of those phrases that is tossed off without the conversationalists really understanding the elements of what it is they are discussing.

  2. jon Avatar

    On the other hand, maybe it’s time to toss out the old recovery plan and start anew. We have to stop killing bears, especially breeding females: Areas occupied by grizzlies will have to be closed during hunting season and at other times; trapping and tranquillizing wild bears must be restricted. Most of all, grizzlies must be allowed to wander and pick their own occupied territories; that means all of the Wind River mountains, the Gros Ventre and Wyoming Ranges and other places and ranges not yet on our radar. We need to engineer freeway underpasses to get grizzlies across I-15 into the Bitterroot, across I-90 to the Scapegoat and the Crazy Mountains.-Doug Peacock

    If only the usfws were as smart as Doug.

    1. Elk275 Avatar


      The other day I was returning from the shooting range in Livingston, Montana. I looked ahead of me and saw an animal cross the road, then the car in front of me blocked my view. Oh! no, someone is going to have their black lab killed by a car or truck. No, it’s a black bear. It came to the interstate fence climbed to the top and was down and across the frontage road and up and over the another fence then I passed the bear. I do not think that the Interstate Highway stops bears.

    2. Save bears Avatar

      Good luck on closing down areas with grizzlies during hunting season, as a good amount of it is private land, or state owned land, by that statement Jon, you are basically pushing a anti-hunting agenda, which if I am not mistaken, you stated you were not anti-hunting in the past, but if you want all areas closed that grizzlies occupy, your essentially advocating for closing the majority of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming down to hunting..

  3. Linda Hunter Avatar

    You are right Virginia . . this is a good article and asks some great questions about the two fatal incidents this summer. As Peacock observed the press took the word “predatory” and bandied it around like a sword in the minds of those who are scared of bears when in fact, the attack was not predatory. He describes why he thinks it was not in the article. Very interesting and, I am afraid, as I suspected there is no way to know the whole truth, even if you were there.

  4. JimT Avatar

    Brian, I like your title, but doesn’t one have to be someplace before one can be deemed to abandon it? I was one of the Obama drum beaters that things would be different for the West, but it was clear with the Salazar appointment that the environmental vote out West is taken for granted by the DC folks…and too often by the Western Dems themselves.

    Time for a little Hayduke attitude, I think, on behalf of predators in particular, and animals in general.

    1. WM Avatar

      Obama is trying to govern “from the middle” a move further to the left, means losing the same or maybe more of those in the middle right. Is it that difficult to understand in a mid-term election? And, then, we are to presume environmental issues are really very much on the political radar as the economy, two screwed up costly wars and the mis-steps of Wall Street continue to fog the horizon.

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        The key to midterm elections isn’t to satisfy the middle, it is to rally your base. The middle is less likely to vote in midterm elections. That’s why the Dems are going to get creamed. They ignored those most active in their party and they are not enthused.

      2. Linda Hunter Avatar

        I suppose I am extremely politically naive but how can Americans who are out of work, not doing as well financially as they planned in life right now even begin to think that the Republican platform will help them? So far all I have heard them say is they want less government and that they want big business to enjoy all the benefits of the bush era as well as the tax cuts. How in the heck does less regulation, less oversight and more money and power to the rich help the middle and lower class?

      3. jon Avatar

        Republicans are not going to fix this country. Republicans seem to be against the middle class. They are not saviors. Republicans are just as bad as democrats in my opinion, maybe worse.

      4. jon Avatar

        There was also a recent poll out that republicans are even less popular than democrats. Both Bush and Palin draw higher negative remarks than Obama.

      5. Save bears Avatar

        I don’t understand why anyone would be polling about Bush, his time in the limelight has passed, and wasting time to poll about Bush accomplishes nothing, living in the past, will not fix the problems of the future..

      6. pointswest Avatar

        The data is in. The Bush Tax Cut did not deliver. The did not increas income, they did not create jobs, and they did not pay for themselves. It was all a big lie. The mean income of Americans dropped from 2000 to 2008. Many fewer jobs were created under Bush than under Clinton. The National Debt soared under Bush. The main result of the Bush Tax Cuts were that the upper 1 or 2% of Amercans became wealthier.

        The Dems will not lose in Novemver. With Tea Party canidates in Nevada, Deleware, and Alaska, the Republicans taking the Senate is nearly impossible. Republicans taking the House is unlikely.

      7. WM Avatar


        ++The key to midterm elections isn’t to satisfy the middle…++

        Normally I would tend to agree with that assessment, but these times, in my view, are different. Unfortunately, patience, is hard to come by these days, and doing things to irritate those in the middle who elected you won’t help Dems who are in the fight this election cycle. A backlash that weakens Obama’s ability in Congress to follow through on some of the things that have been started, and that need follow-through and time to work, would not be good.

  5. monty Avatar

    Another nail in the bear’s coffen. As Peacock indicated, it’s a shame that the bears don’t have access to more of the “bison protein” that are killed in the name protecting the livestock industry. However, Thomas Friedman in his book: Hot, Flat & Crowded, defines the real issues that the majority of humans do not acknowledge.

    1. Linda Hunter Avatar

      Monty I have wanted to read that book but my book budget is small this year. . by next summer I will be able to check it out of the library. Do you care to relate what those unacknowledged issues are?

  6. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    We just got back from a 6 day hike in the NW corner of the park — Specimen Cr. and several lakes – Shelf, High, Sportsman, etc. and Electric Peak. It sure looks like a graveyard up there as far as the pines. The backcountry ranger said he had seen one cone and a trail crew leader who’s been there several weeks and gets out quite a bit on personal jaunts has seen none. We saw only one griz track and that fairly old – the trail crew has seen one black bear. We brought our little electric fence because of all the stories about hungry bears, but sure didn’t seem to need it up there – probably the safest elevation to camp. I think they have mostly moved. Friends who live on the Yellowstone bottom just below Gardiner have had up to 3 grizzlies on their small property – really hitting the fruit trees and a black bear and cubs that had been hanging around in Gardiner were caught and presumed to have been killed a couple of nights ago. Friends who hunt just above town say there is so much grizzly activity and sign in the last couple of seasons they have been re-evaluating the risk walking up the mountain pre-dawn or shooting an elk or deer at the edge of timber just before dark.

    1. pointswest Avatar

      I spoke with my sister today who summers in her cabin on Henry’s Lake. She said it was very dry this summer. Almost no rain in late July and August.

      Last year, it rained on most afternoons. It was like a monsoon she said.

    2. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson


      I used to do fall time patrol in the area you talk of…from 1974-1982. I would tell my grizzly trapper friend of all the red tinted pine nut scat and different griz tracks. I’d tell of 5-8 griz in the length of Shelf to High Lake (no trail there back then). He finally checked it out and low and behold it was soon found to be the highest bear frequented area in Yellowstone.

      I use to stake out in this area for poachers (caught more here than all the rangers combined …. since this portion of Yellowstone was annexed. They’d come up Mill Creek and the ridge of Buffalo Horn to get into the Park). One sifting sands type drift blowing late light afternoon I tried to camp because of those poacher tracks. Tried 4 different old Indian campsite areas to hole up with the pack and saddle horse. Each spot had fresh griz tracks, all moving from one small White Bark to the other. Drifting meant no tracks more than ten minutes old.

      It was not to be. The last attempt, and right at dark, was at an open area high pond…good for not suprising a griz…either by me or the stock at night in camp. It was one of my favorite spots. Even found half a soapstone bowl there once. Damn,…. fresh griz tracks… sooooo….. it was saying let the poachers go and I start to the trail head 4 hours away, cutting away from tree thickets and its suprises for the mile to the trail. Twice, commotion right in front…black forms and horses flaring noses and putting weight on the back legs. Three o’clock and the relief of a moon out down lower. Then to the road, trailer and West Yellowstone by 4:30.

      Yes, there USED to be a lot of bears in that country.

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      A month of dry weather in the summer wouldn’t affect whitebark pine nuts, but I’m not sure you were referring to them, pointswest.

      The way I see it is that the pine nuts are gone now and never coming back, so this is the way it is going to be . . . grizzlies all over the place looking for food.

      There is plenty of food, but much of it is near people or belongs to people.

      1. PointsWest Avatar

        No…I was not talking about the whitebark pine nuts. It was just a general remark about the weather and that dry weather would contribute to bear starvation.

        I am not sure if dry weather in late summer would affect whitebark pine nuts as a food source for grizzlies. My understanding is that what grizzlies do is find, by smell, the caches made by squirrels. These caches may not all be from the current year. Also, a good “crop” of whitebark pine nuts may not depend on the late summer weather. It may be much more dependent on the winter and spring weather…again, I do not know for certain but, it seems like the spring and early summer weather would be more important for whitebark pines to produce cones. By late summer, they are already being harvested by squirrels and falling to the gournd.

        Some years, their may also be alternate food to whitebark pine nuts…but obviously not this year.

  7. Mike Avatar

    Fantastic article by Peacock. He gets to the heart of the problem.

    The reality is that if you want to solve the problem, remove the parties who have a monetary investment and follow the science.

  8. Linda Hunter Avatar

    If you were a grizzly bear in that area with no chance to just bop into safeway to stock up for the winter you would be an active advocate for elk hunters. . bring em on and let them get their elk late in the day so they can only take part of it or let me chase them off the kill the way I do to wolves.

    I bet the bears watch hunters everyday learning as much as they can about them.

  9. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I’m not sure poaching of elk would be any problem on the NW boundary nowadays. Possibly bighorn sheep or goat. I looked hard and found elk and their sign to be unbelievably scarce throughout the area. I glassed until nearly dark from the top of Sheep Mountain, from Sportsman’s Lake and from a 10,000 foot hill between Electric Pass and the peak and saw 10 elk total, including a bull that trotted across the ridge west of Electric Pass and 9 total in two groups on the west side of Sepulcher Mtn, from several miles away. I glassed in the morning but expected spotting then might be less productive due to the full moon, so stayed out and watched well past elk-thirty on three evenings (trotting down from Electric Pass to Sportsman’s Lake in near dark with the pepper spray in one hand). No griz either. I did see a band of bighorn rams as well as goats and there seem to be plenty of deer and a fair number of moose. I knew elk counts were down (-68% for the Gallatin herd and -67% for Yellowstone northern herd from 1994-2008) but was unprepared for near absence in such incredible looking elk country, disproportionate to even the reduced counts.

    I tried to get at the question of could they be “under the floorboards” as Bob Jackson and WM discussed recently in another thread. We did not hear a single bugle, even leaving Sportsman’s Lake early on a frosty late September morning and walking 11 miles through burns, meadows and timber to the trailhead.

    I missed the ungulate biologist at Mammoth and found other park staff, mostly rangers, so defensive about elk questions that they were uninformative in discussing different ideas. “Well you can see plenty of elk at Mammoth”, “This has all been sorted out at Isle Royale”, etc. As far as bugling, we could possibly have been early, given fairly warm weather. However, the rangers told us there was plenty of bugling at lower elevations near West and Soda Butte Cr. (where we watched coyotes feed on a fresh elk carcass with two stuffed wolves watching from nearby with indifference) and we saw and heard rutting activity at Mammoth.

    In any case, I was flabbergasted to glass all evening into what I thought was picture-book elk country in the headwaters of the Gardiner, Little Quadrant, and all the way down to Swan Lake Flats (where I remember lots of fall elk drama as a kid) and see nothing — except 9 clear over on Sepulcher. If they’re hiding under the floorboards, they are doing it well and even if they opened the NW corner of the park to hunting, to be successful I would need to look much harder and develop different hunting methods than worked for me NE of the park in the early-1970s. We saw fresh tracks the first day on the N. fork of Specimen Cr. and expected to see much more as the trip unfolded but those were nearly the last really fresh tracks we saw. The elk certainly could still be hiding quietly somewhere in the timber and feeding by moonlight in tiny openings away from trails but I don’t ever remember such secretive behavior on that scale. As far as dung piles, we saw none that were really fresh. I walked the perimeter of meadows at High Lake and along Specimen Cr. looking for spoor. I can see that elk may use hiking trails less than before because wolves probably tend to use them as transportation corridors among pockets of prey as they do with snowmobile trails and logging roads in Alaska. In fact, there were sections that looked like a wolf highway with very fresh tracks over old ones made during moister conditions, and overall wolf scat sightings on the trip considerably outnumbered elk pellet groups. On the most densely traveled trail by wolves between Fan Cr. and the E. Fork of Specimen Cr., we counted 18 scats in a ¾ mile section. Most were fairly old and contained elk or deer hair, although the diet briefly switched to moose in a section closer to Sportsman’s Lake.

    Anyway, I’m interested in learning more. NPS contacts generally treated my observations and questions as if I either had an uniformed ax (acquired perhaps in a local bar) to grind or unfortunately had my trip spoiled by unfulfilled expectations (and just needed to be directed to where I could see and hear some elk). Neither was the case. Yellowstone is still a place where I go to watch and learn – not to judge. In any case, I’m not sure usurped hunter killed elk, wounding loss or gut piles are going to continue to be a reliable food source for bears either.

    1. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson


      The N. boundary high country I patrolled in the Gallatin never has had many elk. Few of the poachers I caught in the regular fall hunt actually shot an elk. Sheep poaching was number 1 for the area.

      High Lake held a very small herd (10-15 animals) SW of the lake (only cross travel tracks to the East going down to Mill Ck on Tom Miner) ….a herd of the same size at Specimen Lake proper and then maybe 20 a mile South and below Shelf lake. Crescent Lake had a small herd lower on Meldrum Mt.

      The only larger summer herds would migrate down from little Quadrant on the west slope of Electric (several old Indian blinds 10 -15′ from those trails dug out of the talus slopes) or go downstream from summering on the lower Fan Ck Creek and continuing on to the East side of the Gallatin river.

      The open country in the upper Gallitin of Fawn Pass, Little Quadrant and Big Horn use to hold 400 elk but then all the visitor use soared and these migrating hunted elk couldn’t take the pressure near the trail. What finished it was the Gallatin outfitters pounding horses with all kinds of dudes into all the high country elk refuges after the closures opened up. The same for the day riding dude outfitters on the Gardiner side. They all ride high and flush cow calf herds out of any meadows. Hunted elk can’t take it.

      I did a lot of elk hunting on the N side of Electric plus upper Specimen when it was the Forbes ranch in the early seventies. Some resident elk but not near as many as one would think. N. side of Tim Minor and Big Creek held a lot more.

      The Yellowstone Park land north of the East fork of Specimen actually was not good elk country. It may have seemed like it…kind of like the fisherman at the Slough Ck. trail head one hot Agust day, pointing to the north snow slope of Washbun Peak…..and asked, “They got Polar bears up there?”. I said, “no” and he then retorts with, ” They should put some there, it looks like a real good place for them”.

      High and Shelf Lake had a lot of bare ground around it and the grass horses would be hungry after a night on the pickets and hobbles….. and Specimen Lake had a lot of sedge…good for fall and winter but not summer grazing.

      Elk had to cover a lot of ground to live in that south facing boundary country to make a go of it. I doubt wolves changed much of anything in this land. There wasn’t enough for them to bother.

      Now upper Grayling, Gneiss Creek and Round and Indian Mt…..thats another thing. Huge game trails one can ride on forever…well almost.

      1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
        SEAK Mossback

        Bob Jackson –
        Thanks, I had no prior experience north of Electric pass and as you say the grass is not particularly thick nor lush around Shelf Lake, etc. — it was pretty dry everywhere I glassed from Sheep Mtn. I was more surprised not to see much looking south from Electric Pass into the upper Gardner though. However, with lower overall numbers and a wide choice of summer-fall haunts, I may have just missed them.

  10. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    Speaking more directly to the Peacock’s article, I agree that the loss of whitebark pine and need to shift habitat is enough of a change to put delisting on hold until the shift in distribution and population adjustment are complete. Immediate delisting looked reasonable a few years ago with the population having tripled, but this changes things, at least temporarily. People are going to have to get a little more accustomed to living close to the bears and that effort will likely benefit from the bears retaining some protection under the ESA. If it isn’t done now, and a considerable loss of population/habitat happens in the intervening years, it could end up being considerably more expensive and inconvenient for society later.

    Much of it is just education and habits. Juneau used to be a major one-way sink for black bears that came into town and discovered garbage, became conditioned and eventually had to be lethally dealt with by police and ADF&G. Changes in laws, garbage containers (and hours) and education have made a huge difference. It’s not that we don’t have enough bears to continue indefinitely as a one-way sink, but people got tired of having conditioned bears around their homes and watching them killed and it was costing considerable time and sleep for officials who had other things to do. That kind of effort needs to continue around GYE until bears are accommodated as well as they reasonably can be. Our friends running a B&B between the highway and river have found so far that having grizzlies on and around their 5 acres is not an absolutely huge deal. They’ve got bear-proof garbage containers and have electric-fenced their chickens “before” trouble. The main casualty has been apple trees. They warn guests who go down to fish in the Yellowstone to keep an eye out and make some noise (one returned a few minutes later white as a sheet, having stumbled into the day bed of a large male that emerged teeth clacking).

    As far as closing whole drainages to hunting because a grizzly shows up, I think Peacock is dreaming. They’d have to close most of the upper Yellowstone valley. The hunters I know are adapting as best they can, trying to minimize the chances of dangerous conflict, and I think spreading the word about the problem and how to minimize it is the only reasonable solution. There will be occasional unavoidable mortality, but that will more likely be sustainable if the human population overall is working broadly to minimize mortality. Ideally, the bear gets nothing but the gut pile. If you have to return to a kill for a second load, you don’t just step out of the brush but check it out from the greatest distance possible. I assume that the law is the same as here. If a bear takes over your kill, it is not your “property” in the sense that you can kill it in defense of life and “property” (DLP).

  11. Richard Giallanzo,nj Avatar
    Richard Giallanzo,nj

    A long time ago, I came across an article in the Science Times, on Tueasday the New York times has a section called the Science Times. The article stated how Canada delt with Black and Grizzly bears and other wildlife , that were being killed on the interstate and by trains. They built an underpass and an overpass for the wildlife on the interstate. The article stated,black bears like to walk under cover and grizzly like to walk in the open. In Yellowstone I seen a balck bear walking under the road coming back from Lamar valley. The passes in Canada were for wolves and other wildlife too. So I say, should we not take a tip from Canada?

    1. pointswest Avatar

      The have bear overpasses in Europe too….large ones.

    2. Wyo Native Avatar
      Wyo Native

      You have not spent much time in Wyoming have you? Wyoming has been using underpasses for quite awhile now, and we are installing more every single year.

      Here is an article about some underpasses that were installed in 2008 close to where I live.

  12. Richard Giallanzo,nj Avatar
    Richard Giallanzo,nj

    To pointwest;
    Are you pulling my leg ?

    1. pointswest Avatar

      I know there are bear overpasses in the Alps and I believe I read they are also in the Pyrenees and in Germany and elsewhere.

  13. Richard Giallanzo,nj Avatar
    Richard Giallanzo,nj

    Thanks guys, this is a positive all around the world, this is great to know !


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Brian Ertz