Dirt cheap reintroduction plan. Step 1. paperwork. Step 2. Bring on the bears.
We’ve done the paperwork already–an EIS. The public wants grizzly bears. Step 1 is done.
Step 2. Bring on the bears. It would not cost much at all to live trap 10 grizzly bears from the Yellowstone area and 10 grizzlies from northern Montana and move them to the Selway-Bitterroot. Nice genetic mix. Plenty of good bear habitat. Have at it. Done, right?
The big ticket item would not be the “bring on the bears” cost, it would be state and federal agencies claiming they needed $1.87 million a year to “study” the bears. I don’t know what they’d study, given that Yellowstone grizzlies and grizzlies in N. Montana have been studied to death, but the #1 impediment to reintroducing grizzlies in the Selway-Bitterroot is the cost of agencies doing “research” after the bears are there.
If they are going to reconsider the reintroduction then they should not be considered “experimental non-essential”. Too much bullshit that goes along with that designation as we’ve seen with the wolves.
We know there are already grizzlies there so they should just supplement the existing population and not let WS anywhere near them. I’m sure they would ask to kill at least one each year just for good measure.
“…the #1 impediment to reintroducing grizzlies in the Selway-Bitterroot is the cost of agencies doing “research” after the bears are there.”
Really? I’d say the #1 impediment has been an administration who has done everything within its power to delist threatened and endangered species (whether they are recovered or not) while also avoiding the listing any new species. Number 2 might be a Congress who agreed with the administration and so has refused to adequately fund FWS. Number 3 would be the local “hornets nest” they would be tossing rocks at by putting grizzlies on top of wolves (I can hear the pissing and moaning already). Two million for monitoring populations (and other research) is chump change, as an “impediment” to reintroduction, it is nothing more than a smoke screen.
For us bear fans I´d like to share a link with you to the website of the BEAR project of the Slovak Wildlife Society. http://www.medvede.sk (don´t forget to klick the English language version of the page) I know, I begin to bore you with my offerings, always on the edge of a topic :-)) Nevertheless, maybe one day you maybe venture to beautiful Slovakia, which is excellent value for the money, you´ll find nice and dedicated people there…….
It seems that the local “hornets nest” is a lot like all those folks who now inhabit the deserts of California; since they decided to go live there, god, or someone, is supposed to make it into an oasis-like environment for their comfort complete with plentiful clean water and grass.
The locals should learn that the places they decide to go move into are not subject to change to their whims just because that’s what they want to happen. So it is with wildlife. If they want to live someplace where there aren’t wolves or bears, there are many other places on the planet they can avoid such inconveniences that require them to be respectful of the sensitive environment they chose to inhabit.
With vital or, as the law states, critical habitat vanishing at alarming rates, it would do for all humans to figure out that they need the other species within the biosphere in order to survive. It isn’t just about human survival… The government agencies should be more inclined to act accordingly with the knowledge of this truth.
The “temper-tantrum mentality” that has become the norm for getting what you want even when it’s wrong has to die. The only thing that seems to attest to this nation’s greatness, anymore, is the penchant for bad behavior and selfishness at the expense of everyone else.
JB–A million here a billion there, pretty soon it all adds up. Why spend $1-$2 million per year for unnecessary bear “research?” It’s not anti-bear people demanding the money, it’s bureaucrats. It’s not Washington DC bureaucrats, it’s local yokels. Why are local bureaucrats putting out a smokescreen? Maybe they really don’t want grizzly bears in the Bitterroots. Who are these local yokel bureaucrats? At the top of the list is US Fish Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen.
“Why spend $1-$2 million per year for unnecessary bear ‘research?’ ”
Chuck, I’m not familiar with the Selway-Bitterroot proposal, but having worked with agencies in the past, I can take an educated guess at what biologists would want to know. First, since you’re talking about reintroducing an endangered species, FWS is accountable to tax-payers for money spent on the program. Thus, they’ll want to monitor its success. This means radio/GPS collars to monitor populations (i.e. count grizzlies). It might also mean some non-invasive data collection techniques (e.g. hair snags), and likley some helicopter time (which is expensive), and maybe even some genetics work. My guess is they would also want to collect data on livestock depredations (if they don’t, livestock producers will claim that bears are eating them out of house and home). Finally, if they were smart they would run a much less expensive study to determine the socially acceptability of reintroducing grizzlies to the area. This study would–given the grizzly’s charismatic nature–very likely show that there was wide-spread support for reintroduction efforts.
As you said, these things add up. But taxpayers want “oversight” of “wasteful governmental programs.” Thus, FWS wouldn’t think of reintroducing a species without some method of long-term monitoring. In fact, even if your reintroduced them and immediately declared them recovered, FWS is required by law to monitor populations for 5 years:
“The Secretary shall implement a system in cooperation with the States to monitor effectively for not less than five years the status of all species which have recovered to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this Act…”
We’ve got 25 years worth of data on bear human conflicts in both the Yellowstone area, and the northern rockies, so why not put it to use. That data tells us where bears die, and why. I’d spend my money on monitoring potential hot spots. There are going to be conflicts and dead bears at the camps of commercial hunting outfitters. Use your money to put people on the ground and monitor the outfitters for compliance with food storage regs. There are going to be conflicts and associated bear mortality due to ranchers and their livestock. Pay people to be there and monitor the situation. You don’t need Ph.D. biologists for most of this work. High school kids on summer vacation would do. I’m sure the Sierra Club and other conservation organizations could easily round up an army of volunteers. It’s easy to predict where conflicts would occur–practice preventative medicine by putting people on the ground in the right places to prevent yahoos from killing grizzlies.
JB–your suggestion that we do a study to determine the social acceptibility of reintroducing grizzlies strikes me as irresponsible spending–remember, this was covered in an expensive EIS just a few years ago.
Certainly, FWS should look at conflict data from nearby areas, but we’re hardly at a point where we can predict (with accuracy) exactly where depredations will occur (except, of course, that we know they will only occur where there are livestock). With regards to who should collect the information or enforce compliance… are you suggesting you should send out high school kids to make determinations as to the source of domestic livestock kills or enforce compliance with regulations? I don’t think this would improve FWS’ reputation among any stakeholder groups. Moreover, I doubt PhD biologists are not doing this work. I don’t disagree that we should be spending more money on enforcement. In fact, that would be part of impediment #2 that I mentioned above–that is, lack of adequate funding. However, none of this changes the simple fact that FWS is required by law to monitor reintroduced populations.
“…your suggestion that we do a study to determine the social acceptibility of reintroducing grizzlies strikes me as irresponsible spending–remember, this was covered in an expensive EIS just a few years ago.”
Chuck – I think those are great suggestions about using the lessons we’ve gained from nearly four decades of recovery effort to prevent bear-human conflicts. Preventing those conflicts is the central task in keeping the bears we’ve got, and expanding populations into historic habitat.
I also agree with the thrust of JB’s comments: based on the vociferous opposition on the first go-round, it’s certainly worth paying attention to local sentiments about grizzly recovery.
We can talk all we want about how the grumpy locals should go live in Ohio if they don’t like big predators, but is that kind of posturing going to get us anywhere? Is that kind of counter-argument compelling to decision makers? Or — perhaps more to the point — is it going to increase the chances that a local person will tolerate and accept bears, or join the “insurgency” against the reintroduction?
Non-supportive locals can act out their opposition politically, or directly by failing to prevent conflicts (especially on private land — think birdfeeders, compost, garbage) or by actively trying to kill bears. I’d wager it’s cheaper and more sustainable in the long run to try to get their support (while staying true to effective conservation) than to “run ’em over” and then have to pour resources into surveillance and enforcement.
With that in mind, I’d go back to some basic questions, like what are we really trying to accomplish with a Central Idaho grizzly recovery program?
It seems like the “connectivity” argument is a big one: Yellowstone grizzlies are isolated and need to be re-connected to other grizzly populations so they can be demographically & genetically robust. I agree wholeheartedly with this objective, and also feel that it’s not true recovery to meet these needs by artificially trans-locating bears amongst the various recovery areas.
BUT: Does creating a new, small, isolated population in the Salmon-Selway country serve that purpose? We would still need to do a lot of work in the country between Yellowstone & the Bitterroot for bears to be able to move freely with a high probability of survival.
When I step back and look at the problem this way, it strikes me that the work in the intervening landscape is where the action is. Focusing on growing a new grizzly population in the Salmon-Selway looks to me like an expensive, controversial distraction from the real work.
My perspective on this is partly informed by what we see bears doing on their own already. Grizzlies from the Northern Continental Divide are already finding their way south of I-90, moving out of the Blackfoot Valley and ending up near places like Anaconda. Another bear moved south into Rock Creek and ended up spending a lot of time in the Sapphire Mountains, on the east side of the Bitterroot Valley.
Based on what these bears are doing, it looks like the NCDE & Yellowstone could be re-connected without doing anything in the Salmon-Selway at all. Get a few resident bears in the Anaconda-Pintler, Sapphires, and West Big Hole ranges, and it’s likely they’d start re-colonizing the Salmon-Selway at some point anyway.
And since most of that Salmon-Selway is already designated wilderness, we don’t have to worry that it could get developed while we focus on recovery efforts elsewhere. It will all still be there, maybe even with restored salmon runs someday.
Ok, reintroduction proponents will respond, but how long would it take to get bears to re-colonize all that in-between country? Wouldn’t we be looking at decades before there were many grizzlies there?
Sure. But why are we doing this anyway? Career advancement? Photo ops? Or for the long-term future of grizzlies in the lower 48? The genetics work on the Yellowstone grizzly population doesn’t indicate any immediate dire risk.* And it would take decades for a handful of reintroduced grizzlies to grow to a size that would lead to dispersal from the Salmon-Selway, too.
It’s a multi-decade fix to the problem of isolation no matter which way you go — in fact, focusing on the places where NCDE bears are dispersing to may be faster. Maybe cheaper, too. Probably less controversial. Has to be done to accomplish connectivity, anyway, so why not start with that task??
*[see Miller, C. R., and L. P. Waits. 2003. The history of effective population size and genetic diversity in the Yellowstone grizzly (Ursus arctos): implications for conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 100(7):4334-4339.]
Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the FWS basically dismiss concerns about genetic isolation in Yellowstone, and state that if genetics ever becomes a problem, agencies can easily solve the problem by live trapping and importing bears from the NCDE?
I’d love to have grizzlies in the Selway-Bitterroot, but agree that a realistic look at the lay of the land between the Selway and Yellowstone tells you “connectivity/genetic interchange” between the 2 areas is a long shot. Instead of arguing we need grizzlies in the Selway for possible connectivity with Yellowstone and the NCDE, I’d argue that we need grizzlies in the Selway because they enrich our lives. Period.
If you want to give both locals and far away public land owners a chance to get up on a soapbox and voice their opinions about grizzlies in the Selway, fine, do another expensive EIS, or social research, or whatever you want to call it. Waste of time and money. The FWS and other agencies have made up their minds before the process starts. The only thing that stops them from doing what they want to do is politicians. Dirk–I don’t want massive flesh-eating carnivores in Idaho–Kempthorne and other politicians only listen to constituents who share their views.
If we really have to monitor the population of reintroduced grizzlies in the Bitterroot, it would pay to remember what just happened in the NCDE. We (taxpayers) just spent about $5 million for DNA research to get baseline data on the number of grizzlies in the NCDE. There are about 800 grizzlies. Now the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, Parks is spending about $150-175k a year to monitor population trends. OK, if we dump 20 grizzlies in the Selway, there’s no need for a $5 million DNA study–we can safely assume there are 20 bears. Spend $150-175k a year to monitor the population trend. Spend the rest of your money in ways that prevent dunderheads from killing grizzlies. Put a monitor at every commercial hunting camp. Got sheep? Hire a monitor to follow the sheepherders everywhere they go on public land. Got Forest Service campgrounds people can drive to? Hire a high school kid and give him or her a 2 way radio and a digital camera. Take photos documenting improper food storage. Call law enforcement if you need help. Obviously these are not detailed plans. But the details could be worked out in an economical manner. Better for bears to spend your money on enforcement and education than counting bears, or having some Ph.D do a redundant study on bear utilization of berries.
“…Now the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, Parks is spending about $150-175k a year to monitor population trends…”
Chuck, as I already pointed out, the monitoring is required by law and, as you already know, the purpose of the 5 million dollar study you allude to was not only to monitor population trends, but also to test the viability of non-invasive methods (e.g. hair-snags, helicopters, etc.) for monitoring populations. In the long run, these methods may end up saving us money.
The science–even the science conducted by state agencies–provides a counter balance to political claims. Even when their analyses and conclusions are flawed, the data provided allow NGOs to sort out sound decision making from bogus, political decisions. Moreover, without this basic science, NGOs would have no foothold in the courts as, under the APA, agency decisions are granted deference unless their decisions can be deemed unreasonable. The recent court wins with respect to wolves (and many other species) would not have happened were it not for dedicated, under-appreciated scientists with the FWS and other agencies that are conducting the same types of studies you condemn.
I urge you to check out the opinion piece by Steve Mirsky in this month’s scientific American, chastising McCain and Palin for their anti-science tirades on the campaign trail.
JB–Thanks for the tip on the article in Scientific American. I agree scientists studying bears are often under-appreciated. I’ve certainly used “science” to build my case on various bear-related issues. But I’m convinced there’s an awful lot of expensive, frivilous, redundant bear research. I’m not willing to give the agencies, or scientists, a carte blanche to do any kind of bear research they deem to be legitimate.
By and large, bear research today focuses on trivial topics, and ignores the issues that need to be scrutinized. Agency scientists do most research, and only politically correct research gets funded by politicians. The DNA population study for the NCDE is a case in point. Think the Alaska Congressional Delegation is going to let Congress provide scientists with $$$$ to study polar bear population trends?
I hate to rain on y’alls parade, but not everyone wants grizzlies forcefully reintroduced; just the majority of the people on this blog. I’m fine with letting the grizzlies establish more territory on their own as they are currently doing, but they must co-exist with the other multiple uses of our National Forests.
“By and large, bear research today focuses on trivial topics, and ignores the issues that need to be scrutinized. Agency scientists do most research, and only politically correct research gets funded by politicians.”
The research funded by state and federal management agencies is very applied. This is because these agencies are charged with the “management” of wildlife resources, not figuring out the fundamentals of animal behavior.
Other non-agency research is more “basic” (see Craig Packer’s studies of African Lions, for example).
I agree that the research priorities that agencies set are often not what I would choose to spend money on; however, in most cases the studies that are undertaken are done so to assist agencies in making management decisions. The population study in the NCDE is a perfect example. You seem to believe that the fix was in on this study from the beginning; I disagree. Certainly this study was funded (at least in part) because of the Bush administration’s desire to delist grizzlies (and every other species, for that matter), but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t needed, and it doesn’t mean the scientists working on the project approached it with that goal in mind. You would be singing a very different tune were the study to have found fewer bears than they expected.
Whatever the case, you should know that as state budgets have dried up, funding for research has become much harder to acquire. Moreover, federal support is also dwindling; many USGS cooperative research units are not filling positions as they open up. Trust me, research in wildlife is not a lucrative career.
An article in Scientific American titled “McCain’s Beef with Bears?–Pork,” discusses the DNA bear count in the NCDE and ends with the author saying, “So is forking over huge chunks of change to protect grizzly bears “unbelievable”—or a joke—as McCain charges?”
How does counting bears protect them? Am I missing something? Seems to me that if you didn’t count them, they’d have just as much protection.
The Steve Mirsky column in Scientific American says the DNA bear count is wonderful because, “The first step to protect endangered grizzlies is to know how many there are.” It is? I thought grizzlies in the NCDE were already being protected because they’re listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
$5 million down the drain for a frivilous bear count, when protecting them means protecting their habitat/reducing mortality. Ralph recently posted a handy dandy graph from Servheen and the gang that shows the main causes of grizzly mortality in the NCDE for the past few decades. The top priority should have been securing funding to protect bears by doing something about that mortality.
You’ve got 3 or 4 biologists in the field who are absolutely swamped trying to cover a huge geographic area and deal with all the dolts who kill grizzlies by feeding the bruins garbage, cattle, birdseed, etc., and there’s no money to help them or support them, but $5 million to send an army of people into the field to count bears.
Chuck Parker wrote: “How does counting bears protect them? Am I missing something? Seems to me that if you didn’t count them, they’d have just as much protection.”
Not to sound flippant, but by this logic, shouldn’t I stop checking the oil in my truck’s engine?
The amount & condition of the oil in the crankcase can tip me off to some potentially serious problem before irreversible damage occurs. Same thing with the various gauges on the instrument panel — temperature, oil pressure, RPMs, amps.
As you seem to suggest, there comes a point where we would spend so much money, time, and attention on these gauges that we don’t have anything left over to do anything else. We don’t need a Space Shuttle instrument panel on a pickup. I agree with that sentiment, but I’m not ready to throw population monitoring out the window. Maybe we could go to every-other-year censusing once we reached certain population levels?
Chuck – I know it’s not the best analogy. Got a bad head cold!
Analogies are fun, because their imperfections push us to think harder about the referent.
I’d point out that if a grizzly population is like an engine, then gas and coolant are also like habitat, in that the engine needs those resources also to do anything. The analogy really breaks down because engines don’t reproduce themselves.
An engine is also a very simple system compared to a grizzly population, and its performance or lack thereof is readily observable to anyone with a little experience. Not so with a grizzly population — it’s a complex system with a lot of different inputs and it’s not easy to observe. I think we have to do some demographic monitoring to track a grizzly population’s “performance,” and then make necessary changes in conservation effort if we’re not seeing what we want.
SAP–given that we now know the # of grizzlies in the NCDE, wouldn’t it be a lot less expensive and just as effective to monitor grizzly bear mortality? Is an annual or semi-annual population sampling still necessary? Is one method better than the other? Is it best to do both to get the most accurate picture of how the bears are doing?
I want the biggest bang, for the smallest $$$$ cost, with the least disruption to bears.
“I want the biggest bang, for the smallest $$$$ cost, with the least disruption to bears.”
Monitoring mortality makes sense, but I think we need to keep an eye on reproduction and recruitment, too, in case some unforeseen change occurs (marginal decline in habitat productivity; environmental pollutants affecting survival or fecundity . . .) How? Don’t know. I sure would like to see an explicit and sincere commitment to the criteria you just articulated.
“How does counting bears protect them? Am I missing something? Seems to me that if you didn’t count them, they’d have just as much protection.”
Chuck, I’m not sure how I can be more clear than I’ve already been. I’m tempted to use all caps, but I don’t want to be mistaken for one of those rude Americans who shout at people who speak different languages. Let me put this as simply as I know how:
The law, specifically the ESA, demands the monitoring of listed and delisted species/populations. Without this information we (that is, FWS, state agencies, NGOs, interested stakeholders, the courts and anyone else who cares) would have no idea whether populations are increasing or decreasing. That is why, as Mirsky suggested, it is the first (and most basic) step in conservation. Imagine going to court in an attempt to list (or delist) a species and you can’t even say if their numbers are increasing or decreasing. Now imagine the FWS says they’re decreasing while MFWP says they are increasing; without data, how is the judge to know? You seem to be a reasonably bright person, so I can’t quite understand why you seem incapable of grasping this rather simple concept.
Maybe this will help.. I attended a presentation today on the effect of wind power on bats. The author noted that they cannot yet determine if wind is affecting bat populations because, for several species, they have no idea what their current populations are, and so have no baseline data to estimate a trend. Note, they have very good estimates of mortality due to the turbines, but this information is almost useless without population estimates.
RFID chips have their place in mark recapture studies but you still have to come into contact with the bear to tag it and recover the tag. RFID tags don’t transmit a signal unless they are in close proximity to the transducer.
They are used in salmon and steelhead studies all the time but it only works because the fish have to pass through/over the dams where the detectors are placed. That would be difficult with bears because you can’t always predict where they will be. Hair snagging stations seem to be a better/cheaper solution.
Grizzlies in the NCDE were listed as a threatened species under the ESA in 1975.
“The law, specifically the ESA, demands the monitoring of listed and delisted species/populations. Without this information we . . . would have no idea whether populations are increasing or decreasing. That is why, as Mirsky suggested, it is the first (and most basic) step in conservation.” JB
When did the NCDE bear population study take place?
Sorry Ken, I’m saving the prize for JB if he can explain why it took the agenices 29 years to comply with the law and take the all important first step of counting bears–and how counting them protects them. The results of the bear count tell us they’ve been doing just fine, despite not being counted.