Seems like the wild bear population around these parts includes more than a few media whores rambling around the mountains looking for attention. There are grizzly bears being shot by hunters, grizzly bears attacking hunters, black bears climbing trees and jamming up traffic on Rattlesnake Drive, traveling grizzly bears…
And then there’s the Idaho outfitter who wants to shoot bears over a bait pile on a portion of the Bitterroot National Forest this fall (easier to kill them, my dear).
The outfitter has petitioned the West Fork District ranger to allow him to use bait to lure black bears in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, an area managed by Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest. Currently the Bitterroot allows baiting on the Idaho side of the state line during the spring bear season, but not in the fall. (The Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests allow baiting in the spring and fall). To their credit, Bitterroot officials put the request out for public comment. Never mind the fact that Montana banned the practice entirely years ago.
We’re all for hunting. Harvesting game is a sustainable way to put food on our tables and a cherished Montana tradition that we support and enjoy. But blasting unsuspecting bears while they gorge on piles of garbage, candy, meat, eggs and whatever else these slob killers (hunters is a term too elevated to describe the brutes behind this shameful slaughter) dump in the wilderness is not only unethical, but it habituates backcountry bears to human food. And it’s a practice that’s bound to lead to more “accidental” slayings of grizzlies. Such was the case of the male grizzly shot by a bear-baiting slob in the Great Burn area last month.
According to the Great Bear Foundation there are fewer than 1,200 grizzly bears in the entire lower 48 states. Those bears exist in isolated islands of habitat, cut off from other bear populations by highways, industrial logging, ranches and increasingly developed valleys. And yet there have been at least five hunting-related grizzly bear deaths this year in the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem alone. That may not seem like a big deal until you consider how hard it is for these isolated bear populations to spread DNA critical for the survival of the species. That’s why the loss of a grizzly bear that wandered 140 miles out of the Selkirks and into his ancestors’ historic range in the Selway-Bitterroot Ecosystem—an area biologists have tagged “excellent grizzly bear habitat”—is worth getting upset over. It’s also why the Bitterroot should not only deny the Idaho outfitter’s bear baiting petition, but why we should ban bear baiting in the Rocky Mountains altogether.