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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Mike Bader: Aiming at the heart of the grizzly

Mike Bader

Broken promises, disrespect and outright lies. These are at the heart of the Trump administration blitzkrieg against environmental laws across the nation. We saw it again at the recent Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) meeting in Polson, Montana. By expediting removal of federal protection for the grizzly bear, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is paving the way for increased development in grizzly habitat by corporate cronies and trophy hunting.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is under Zinke’s jurisdiction. He infamously stated that 30 percent of his staff “are disloyal to the flag.” Disloyalty means transfer or termination. He’s ordered the agency to speed up Endangered Species Act decisions. In this case they’re breaking the rules by speeding through the caution flag in order to win the race, which is a year-end deadline to propose delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They’ve already made the same play in Greater Yellowstone, where Wyoming plans to hunt 22 grizzlies this fall.

While I do not speak for them, Native tribes have expressed opposition to grizzly hunting and discontent with government-to-government outreach and respect. They have tremendous traditional, cultural and spiritual connections with the grizzly that have been downplayed or ignored.

The IGBC is a group of federal and state agency officials. Their June 19th meeting was an appalling litany of buck-passing, butt-covering, changing facts and excuses for broken promises. FWS state director Jodi Bush’s first up-is-down argument was that “the Conservation Strategy is not a substantial document and is not a decision-making document.”

What? The Conservation Strategy for grizzly bear management in the Northern Rockies isn’t significant? It makes decisions on how and where grizzly bears and their habitat will be managed, counted, and monitored across millions of acres, but it doesn’t make decisions?

Next she said the 2016 letter from FWS promising public comment on a final Conservation Strategy is no longer valid since the final is primarily a Forest Service document (FWS published the draft in the federal register). Besides, she said the public got to comment on the draft in 2013. It was then announced the ad hoc “public comment,” (where people signed up for three-minute vignettes of their views on a 326-page document released hours before), had fulfilled their obligations and no additional public comment of any kind will be sought. I did not bother to sign up for this charade.

The conservation strategy is part of the delisting process and FWS is the management agency for threatened and endangered species while they are listed under the ESA. It can’t be pitched out to someone else. Moreover, the new version has extensive changes from the draft, is much longer and relies on new scientific methodologies.

FWS took a similar short cut with its final Habitat Based Recovery Criteria, which weakens habitat standards and has no plan for linkage between Yellowstone, the NCDE and central Idaho, even though it is a Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan task. A previous IGBC wrote: “Wildlife habitat conservation and the eventual recovery of listed species such as grizzly bears will require connections between populations.”

What happened between then and now? Ryan Zinke. After the Polson meeting former FWS Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Dr. Chris Servheen said, “When it gets bent and tarnished by rapid time frames that don’t have much basis in reality, and poor transparency in why decisions are made, that’s really unfortunate. … There shouldn’t be a rush to delist for somebody’s time requirement.” (Missoulian, June 24, 2018).

Ryan Zinke is aiming straight at the heart of the grizzly, undoing 40 years of progress toward partial recovery of the great bear. Please stand down, Mr. Secretary. We knew Teddy Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt was a friend of conservation. Mr. Secretary, you’re no Teddy Roosevelt.

Mike Bader, of Missoula, began his career as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone National Park involved in grizzly bear management and research. He is an independent consultant who has been involved in grizzly bear issues since 1982 and has published several professional papers and reports on grizzly bear distribution, habitat, mortality and behavior.

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