Why We’re Launching Bear Tracks

Welcome to Bear Tracks! I’m Johnathan Hettinger: an award-winning journalist based in Livingston, Montana. I’m proud to be one of the founding members and leaders of the Bear Tracks team.

As a reporter at a daily newspaper in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, whenever I would pitch stories about grizzly bears, I would get the same response: “We’ve covered grizzlies.”

And while that was true, stories like those I was proposing were, and continue to be, few and far between.

Instead, today’s media coverage of grizzly bears is largely dominated by quick-hit headlines: controversial things politicians say, grizzlies being euthanized or killed and maimed, shallow studies and coverage of meetings and lawsuits.

There is very little news reporting that goes further to show the complex, and increasingly dire, situation that grizzlies are in: namely, that the presence of grizzly bears in the Lower 48, including in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, is not guaranteed into the future.

While populations have increased since grizzlies were listed under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s, the species’ future is far from certain, and government officials are continually given deference by reporters, despite rulings in lawsuits showing that they aren’t always following the best available science. For example:

  • Though bears have recovered somewhat, genetic connectivity is needed for the long-term viability of the population. 
  • In a warming world, once-reliable food sources for grizzlies, like berries and whitebark pine seeds, are being depleted.
  • In response, the bears are spreading out in search of food. But in that dispersal, they are increasingly running into humans and livestock and being killed for it – at record rates. And grizzly bear experts have shown that this mortality is not sustainable. 

However, these stories are not being well told. 

That’s why we’re launching Bear Tracks – to provide better coverage of the grizzly bear. 

At Bear Tracks, we will question statements made by wildlife managers, like connectivity isn’t needed for the bear to be recovered. We will dive into mortality reports to see what’s causing grizzly bear deaths, and whether they are being properly prosecuted. We will take a look at why BNSF, the biggest killer of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, has continually failed to address the mortality.

Right now, it’s a shame that the story of one of North America’s most charismatic species is one of clickbait and conflicts, but it doesn’t have to continue to be that way. 

With more critical coverage, we can show people that the story of grizzlies isn’t just black and white.

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