Friday, December 31, 2010
There's a good reason for this.
According to an Associated Press article written by Matthew Brown, grizzly bear deaths around Yellowstone National Park approached record levels in 2010, with an astonishing total of 75 grizzlies being killed or removed from the wild. As is usually the case in situations like this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken a "blame the victim" approach to explaining the carnage. According to the article, most of the bears were killed by wildlife agents or hunters after they (the bears) attacked livestock, acted aggressively toward humans, or damaged property. Although hunting grizzlies is illegal, at least fifteen were killed this year by hunters who mistook them for black bears. Advocates for the black bears call this excuse "just another pathetic example of racial profiling."
In an isolated incident, two bears (Jocko and Phil) were found dead after hi-jacking a Chevy Tahoe and going for a joyride in the Cheyenne area. You're probably thinking, well of course, they must've been killed in a horrific accident because there's no way a grizzly bear could operate a motor vehicle. But that's not what happened at all. As it turns out, Jocko was an excellent driver who diligently obeyed all traffic laws and practiced DMV-approved defensive driving techniques; however, when the bears stopped at an AM-PM mini-mart to get gas and buy snacks, they were shot dead by the store manager who completely misread the situation.
"I saw two bears rummaging through the Tastykake display and I just panicked," admits Jeb Schifley, the manager in question. "I felt awful when I realized they were just regular paying customers. The big one even had a coupon in his wallet for a free package of butterscotch Krimpets. I'm really sorry that this happened."
Of the 75 deaths this year, only three were listed as "natural deaths" and one (the sad case of Billy Bear) was ruled a suicide.
"In general, if you were going to make a bet on whether a bear died because of people versus natural causes, it would be people," said Chuck Schwartz, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist and compulsive gambler. "When you're talking about deaths in the Yellowstone area specifically, the smart money says to take the deaths caused by people and give seven points. Hunters almost always cover the spread."
The estimate of 75 dead or removed bears comes from extrapolations (from the Latin extra meaning "random" and polations meaning "guess") by researchers who assume not all deaths are recorded. Only forty-seven deaths were listed as "known and probable" meaning there was specific evidence of a dead bear such as a carcass, grave marker, or grieving widow.
The rise in bear deaths in 2010 coincided with a decline in the dietary staples for Yellowstone bears -- cutthroat trout and nuts from whitebark pine cones. Government scientists argue that grizzly bears can adapt by eating more elk. Naturally, leaders in the elk community are none too happy with the government scientists.
"Why the hell do they have to drag us into this?" asked Roland P. Whitehorn-Jones, alpha male of the Yellowstone Order of Elks. "Just because the bears can't seem to locate their nuts or their trout, that doesn't mean they should come after us. What, like we don't have our own problems with hunters?"
One grizzly bear, whose name is being withheld at his request, has a solution to the entire problem. "Just stop shooting at us," he said. "We bears don't want to hurt people. We're just hungry. If humans would be willing to share their pick-a-nick baskets with us, there would be no problems whatsoever. A sandwich here, a couple deviled eggs there, we'd all get along just fine."