On the surface, the story seems straightforward: Two rangers shot and killed a grizzly in Glacier National Park Monday evening as the bear approached a campground. One of the sow's two yearling cubs also died after being shot with a tranquilizer. The other cub was successfully sedated and set for transfer to the Bronx Zoo.
The official press release from the National Park Service (NPS) classified the adult's death, stating she was "humanely-killed." Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright called the yearling's death "very unfortunate." Considering the adult had a history of interacting with campers, and no zoos were interested in taking the old sow, Cartwright says park personnel had no choice but to kill her. Seems reasonable enough.
But the details, as always, prove more complicated. The 17-year-old sow, known as the Oldman Lake Bear, received her name because she frequented the campground of the same name. That campground, located on the east side of the park's backcountry, happens to be prime huckleberry terrain. Despite the sow's history in the area, she's never been aggressive with humans. The park appeared to successfully haze her in both 2004 and 2006—she hadn't been seen the last two summers—but this season she reemerged in and around the campground. She still hadn't harmed a human, but Glacier personnel recorded three instances wherein the bear "repeatedly and purposefully approached humans in a non-defensive situation." That wandering led to her death.
NPS has gone out of its way to explain and justify the killings, but advocates think the park made a huge mistake. Doug Peacock, author of Grizzy Years and The Essential Grizzly, pleaded in a letter to Cartwright to reconsider. "This could be a poor grizzly food year for east side bears...Please cut her some slack, close the campground for a few weeks and see." The Wilderness-Sportsman blog took things a little further, calling the incident a "Minority Report style killing," in reference to the Steven Spielberg film where police hunt down criminals before they break the law. There are also reports that numerous park personnel objected to Cartwright's decision, but were afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
"This was a poorly considered decision," Peacock told the Indy after hearing the fatal news. "Bear management in the park is a huge problem. Their plan is so out-dated to deal with the dynamic climate changes we're seeing everywhere grizzlies live. No bears are expendable at this point. I mean, why not just close the area?"
A legitimate question, but, unfortunately, a moot point now.