By George Wuerthner

In a recent editoral (Big Sky Weekly, Dec. 28 – Jan. 10), Scott Talbott of the Wyoming Game and Fish and Harv Forsgren of the U.S. Forest Service wrote that trophy hunting of grizzly bears was another step toward the animal’s recovery. The rationales used by Talbott and Forsgren to justify trophy bear hunting are based on out of date and unscientific management paradigms, not to mention ethically bankrupt ideas about how we should treat wildlife.

Talbott and Forsgren assert state agencies use “best available science” in managing grizzlies and other predators. Yet the best available science suggests many predators including bears, wolves, mountain lions and coyotes, have intricate social interactions that are disrupted or damaged by indiscriminate killing from hunters and trappers.

It’s well documented that dominant bears (i.e. “trophy bears”) occupy the best habitat and prevent other bears from inhabiting that territory. If a bear has lived long enough to become a dominant animal, it’s not one that causes trouble for humans. Occupation of habitat by dominant bears precludes its use by younger, often less experienced bears that are more prone to attack livestock or otherwise cause issues for humans.

Indeed, one study of black bears in the eastern U.S. found as states increased the killing of bears to “reduce conflicts,” the number of bear-human conflicts increased. Similar studies of mountain lions and coyotes have reached the same conclusions – indiscriminate killing exacerbates rather than reduces human-wildlife conflicts.

A major flaw in their assertion is that hunting and most trapping doesn’t specifically target any particular animals causing conflicts – such as a bear that might be killing livestock. Rather, the majority of bears (or wolves, mountain lions or coyotes) killed by hunters and trappers are innocent bystanders who happen to be caught in the crosshairs of predator persecution.

State agencies therefore practice a self-reinforcing cycle of needless killing, whereby predators are indiscriminately killed, disrupting their social organization. This leads to greater human conflict, and thus more demands for predator control.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist living in Helena, and is a former Montana hunting guide who studied wildlife biology at the University of Montana.