A “Solution” Without Worth

Trophy hunting grizzly bears in Montana is not going to solve any problems. Not only has it been exposed to be worthless as a tool of wildlife management, but also the majority of Americans find killing wildlife for sport ethically repugnant. And yet, the Montana Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council (GBAC) seems determined to soldier on with their support for a trophy hunt of their own state animal. Why?

At the April 7, 2020 GBAC meeting, government experts from Montana, Alaska and British Columbia were called in to discuss the role of hunting in the future of grizzly management. The consensus? Trophy hunting is not effective in preventing or reducing conflict. 

Ken MacDonald from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) stated: “There’s been some talk about whether we could use hunting as a way to address conflicts. If you really look at when most of the conflicts occur versus when these seasons occur, it’s probably a limited opportunity for hunting to address conflicts directly.”

Garth Mowat, a large carnivore specialist in British Columbia, shared his experience:

“We’ve never said that hunting was a way to reduce conflict. For one, you’re removing a few percent of the grizzly bears per year so you’re not reducing the density of grizzly bear populations by hunting and you’re probably not targeting the animals that are getting into conflicts. Most hunters are going out to hunt grizzly bears want to go into a wilderness area because part of the aesthetic of the hunt is to go into a beautiful area, it’s not to hunt in somebody’s backyard or on a pig farm. The reverse of that is if you want to manage bear conflict with people, you have to have programs that do that, you cannot rely on a hunt, that’s just a losing venture in my mind.”

Despite the testimony of these experts, and a subsequent GBAC meeting with social scientists regarding social tolerance of grizzly bears, many of the council members still want to hold trophy hunting in their back pocket as a tool for the handful of individuals who seek to kill a bear for sport. But is that what the public wants for their bears? The evidence clearly says no.

Trophy hunting prioritizes the desires of a few over what is valued by the masses.

Acceptance of trophy hunting has decreased sharply as we unravel the state of the human impact on wildlife. Most folks remember the case of a famous lion in Zimbabwe named Cecil, who was first wounded on a guided trophy hunt by an arrow meant to kill. Cecil lasted the night, and was finished off the following day. Outrage reverberated around the globe; it’s clear that the vast majority of people would prefer to appreciate animals wild and alive. 

A survey conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of the Humane Society in 2015 revealed that by a two-to-one margin, U.S. voters said they oppose trophy hunting. In addition, by more than a three-to-one margin, respondents said that if they could travel to Africa, they would prefer to spend their tourism dollars in a country that prohibits trophy hunting rather than one that allows it. 

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS said: “The wounding and killing of Cecil gave Americans a glimpse of the ugliness of the trophy hunting subculture. Killing animals as a head-hunting exercise is cruel, colonial, self-aggrandizing, larcenous and shameful. The celebrating of the killing – as hunters sit or stand atop a bloodied yet majestic and often endangered animals—shows a profound detachment from the other species who share this planet with us.”

More recently and closer to home, one very famous wolf was legally killed in 2018 by a sport hunter outside Yellowstone National Park. Many of her family, including her mother, met the same fate. Her death was met with condemnation, and there is a huge array of evidence that keeping these animals alive for the public to enjoy has vast economic benefit to the state of Montana. And that doesn’t address the social and cultural considerations of keeping wildlife alive. 

From the Wolf Conservation Center blog:

“Studies also show that since their return over 20 years ago, wolves have delivered an economic boost to Yellowstone’s surrounding communities. University of Montana researchers found that wolves bring an estimated $35M in annual tourist revenue to the region. 

Trophy hunting of wolves brings in money too. Wolf hunting licenses cost $19 for residents and $50 for nonresidents. Perhaps Montana should take a closer look at the economics of wolf hunting. Seems that Yellowstone wolves are worth a lot more alive than dead.”

Of course this is true for Montana’s bears, as well. They’re worth much more alive and free than as a mount or bearskin rug.

Perhaps Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council would have a shift in opinion if they were exposed to the thinking of wildlife biologists and conservation groups opposed to trophy hunts. This glaring absence at the table means that valuable science, sentiment, and information remains unheard. As any good lawyer will tell you, you don’t call witnesses to the stand who don’t support your claims.

At the end of the day, we all have a shared goal: reduced conflicts between grizzly bears and people. It’s abundantly clear that trophy hunting does not move us closer to that goal in any way. At what point will these high level and very important meetings for the future of an endangered species shift to include all relevant bodies of evidence? 

The conservation community stands by with pertinent information, ready to participate in the conversation. In order for the GBAC to have a robust and meaningful outcome, all stakeholders must be present. Indigenous people must be involved, the conservation community must be allowed to present their findings and considerations, and the voices of the hundreds of thousands of people who took the time to submit comments voicing their opposition to sport hunting – they too must be heard, honored, and respected.