Monday, August 29, 2011

Rural burdens to bear(s)

If you've ever lived or traveled in bear country, you'll be familiar with the many precautions taken to avoid an encounter with a bear: keep all food items out of your vehicle, use bear proof trash cans and food containers, make noise while out walking/hiking, and above all, stay clear of a mama bear with cubs.

Most take these precautions only when making weekend camping trips. It's a different story when the bears live in your own backyard. Grizzly bears have made numerous headlines this year, none of them very good and all of them involving the increasing interaction with people. The Grizzly bear has made a tremendous come back from the endangered species list, and with its growth has come increased contact with people.

Yellowstone National Park saw it's first fatal grizzly attack since 1986 on July 6, 2011. A second fatal attack occurred on August 27, 2011. The attack is likely due to the increased number of park visitors (up nearly 50% since 1975) and the increase in the Grizzly population (over four times the population in 1975).

Many rural communities are accustomed to bear interactions, although their methods for dealing with the bears may differ. Many ranchers in Northern Idaho and Western Montana live by the three S's when it comes to Grizzly bears, "Shoot, Shovel, and Shut up". Jeremy Hill is learning the hard way why many ranchers simply take matters in to their own hands.

In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Hill is currently being charged with unlawfully killing a grizzly bear. Hill's father says the bear and two others had gone after the family's pigs, and Hill had shot the bear for his family's safety. After Hill called the local authorities to report the shootings, he was charged with the misdemeanor. Hill has gathered support from the community as well as state politicians in arguing that the charges should be dropped as Hill did the honest thing in reporting the incident. Hill's trial date is October 4, 2011.

Situations like these do little to answer the questions rural residents have concerning what to do when faced with a Grizzly bear. There are numerous laws on the books protecting livestock from predators such as coyotes and laws concerning self defense, but how does the law play out when the predator is on the endangered species list. Many argue that the Grizzly should be removed from the endangered species list altogether. In fact the Grizzly was removed from the endangered species list for a short time in 2007, until activists brought a suit against the federal government to re list the bears in 2009. Concerning the idea of dropping the bears from the endangered species list, many people, especially those who make a living raising livestock, echo the thoughts of Bert Guthrie, a retired sheep rancher when he said,

You'll be able to protect your property again. That's a good thing.
People in support of leaving the bears as a protected species say that time, more research, and education of the public is the key to keeping both bears and people safe from one another. State Fish and Game departments do what they can to keep bears from causing trouble and also educate the rural residents on how to better protect their property and themselves from the occasional bear. Further research also will help to determine the bears' range of territory and help assess where to locate additional reserves and wilderness areas for the bears.

For now it looks like the Grizzly will continue to be a protected species, and it will be left up to the courts to use their discretion regarding the prosecution of people like Hill.


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Harveen Gill said...
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Namora said...

The attitude espoused by many rural residents brings to mind two things associated with rural culture, informal order and local control. It seems like ranchers and other rural locals have an attitude along the lines of "if it comes in our backyard, it's our problem and we'll deal with it how we like." Such populations seem distressed at the thought of the federal government, abstract and far away, having a say in when and where a rancher can shoot an animal threatening his livelihood. Yet, if animal protection was left to local control you must ask how long will the animals be around?

KevinN said...

This post reminded me of the current argument taking place in Nevada over a black bear hunt. It seems like the people that most often come into contact with the bears want to have the authority to deal with them as they see fit, while those who are looking on from a safe distance want them to go through the necessary bureaucratic steps to have the animals taken care of. I wonder if those wanting to save the bears would feel the same if they had to deal with them wandering around outside their homes at night and potentially damaging their property. I think as cities and their suburbs continue to expand, these issues will only become more problematic and heated.

hgill said...

I find this very interesting because, as we were discussing in class, a lot of us will never encounter an animal on the endangered species list, but we like the idea of protecting them. However, as seen with the smelts here in Sacramento, this can post a lot of problems. Online I saw that the reason the Grizzly Bear was on the endangered species list was because there are only 1,000-2,000 left in North America (not including Alaska). Does the area Jeremy Hill live in contain a large cluster of Grizzly Bears? I understand taking them off of the list could lower their numbers and give people more of a reason to "shoot, shovel, and shut up," but I wonder what the other alternatives are so that the bear and the man can coexist.