In July 2019, seven environmental groups came together and petitioned the Wyoming Game & Fish Department with a proposal requiring hunters within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to carry bear spray. The petition states that bear spray shouldn’t be thought of as “brains in a can,” but rather as a tool that can help save the lives of both humans and bears.
It sounds simple enough, but despite the common sense around all humans carrying bear spray in bear country (including hunters, a group likely to encounter grizzlies), the proposal was unanimously rejected by the Commissioners. For some this was perplexing, yet for others it was a win. For those who are on the frontlines fighting for grizzlies, it was disappointing yet not unexpected.
WY Resident Gets Radio Silence
Attorney Bob Aland is a part-time Wyoming resident who has provided pro-bono legal and financial support of grizzly bears for over 15 years. Aland has been recreating in Wyoming for over forty years, and has a deep respect and reverence for the landscape and its inhabitants—it is an understatement to describe him as invested.
For nearly a year now, Aland has been trying to get in touch with Wyoming Game & Fish Commissioner Patrick Crank regarding his remarks opposing the petition that were “filled with misleading, incomplete and erroneous information.” Over the last eleven months, Aland has contacted Commissioner Crank four times by email but has never received a response, not so much as an acknowledgement.
After the petition was presented to the Commissioners by Kristin Combs, Executive Director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, and supported by statements from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Sierra Club, Commissioner Crank made a lengthy argument against the proposal. His argument can be summed up with this statement:
“… groups like the Sierra Club, the Humane Society that brought this petition, you folks do great harm to the populations you are seeking to protect when you challenge a scientifically, absolutely studied and scientifically incontestable conclusion that a population has recovered and should be delisted and managed consistent with all of our other wildlife populations. What that ultimately does is that decreases public support for that population.”
Commissioner Crank’s statement is problematic for a number of reasons, mainly that he speaks as if he’s relaying indisputable truths, when in fact much of what he said isn’t backed up by science or data at all.
But that’s only part of the problem.
Commissioners Failing to Share Facts, Protect Grizzlies
Another problem is that as leaders and members of the policy-making board for the state of Wyoming, all Commissioners are obligated to relay facts—not opinions—as a matter of civic responsibility. Failing to do so leads to the spread of misinformation both to other members of the Commission as well as to the general public. The Game & Fish Commissioners are appointed “to serve the public and the public’s wildlife.”
Yet another issue is that if the goal is to do right by grizzly bears—who are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act—then there’s an obligation in the state of Wyoming to do what it takes to make sure that bears aren’t killed at the hands of humans just because because a hunter went creeping around the backcountry at sunrise smelling and sounding like an elk. At our disposal, we have an inexpensive tool that can potentially save the lives of both humans and bears.
Some argue it’s about the $35 a canister of bear spray costs, but given the costs of rifles and ammunition it’s clear that it’s not about the price tag on bear spray.
There’s no good reason why Commissioner Crank hasn’t even acknowledged receipt of Bob Aland’s emails, but it seems to have something to do with an unwillingness to admit that, among other things, he grossly overstated the recovery of grizzly bears and understated the amount of tourism dollars that flow into the state from people who visit not for the hunting, but for the abundant wildlife that enhance their wilderness experience.
It’s clear that Bob Aland and Patrick Crank have polar-opposite viewpoints, but as someone who has represented Wyoming since 1985 via a variety of appointed positions, it is both unspeakably rude and irresponsible for Commissioner Crank to disregard the emails of someone who has given a great deal to the state.
Confirmation bias explains the chasm between those who seek to protect grizzlies and allow them safe spaces to continue their path to full recovery, and those who focus on talking points rooted more in wishful thinking than on facts or science. For those not in the know, confirmation bias is “When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true.”
Crickets from Crank
In Aland’s last email, he implores Commissioner Crank, again, to correct his false statements, but also asks, “Have you see the incredible photos and videos of Grizzly 399 and her four cubs in Grand Teton National Park? Grizzly 610 and her cubs? The disinformation that you provided that led to defeat of the bear spray requirement could lead to harm to those amazing bears and other amazing grizzly bears.”
After nearly a year, it’s unlikely that Crank will change his statements, but perhaps there’s hope of his heartstrings pulling him in the direction of not only bringing the proposal back to the table, but passing it. Aland says we shouldn’t hold our breath, but it’s also clear that we shouldn’t give up holding lawmakers accountable to the very basics: providing facts and not twisting data to meet an agenda.