Last weekend, grizzly bear advocates traveled from across the northern Rockies for the Great Bear Campout on Idaho’s beautiful Lochsa river. Our allies at Wilderness Watch convened scientists, lawyers, activists, and passionate citizens to strategize about how we can protect the grizzly bear, as threats to its survival come from all angles. The highlight of the weekend was hearing everyone’s ‘why’—why grizzly bears? We heard about life changing grizzly bear encounters and lessons learned over decades of conservation work.
A few themes emerged from the collective. The passion among this group for protecting the great bear was immensely clear right off the bat. As Louisa Wilcox, co-founder of the Grizzly Times, pointed out, this group of advocates gathered in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest collectively has centuries of experience advocating for the grizzly bear. Their longtime advocacy arises out of a long smoldering inner fire, reigniting with each effort by Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to prematurely strip federal protections from the bear. Second, this group is totally dedicated to defending the grizzly bear, including from those in northern Rockies state agencies and capitol buildings already preparing for trophy hunts if the bear loses Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) protections. And third, it became clear that staying on the defense is not enough. It’s time for us to rise up and think outside the box—to get creative and go on the offense for grizzly bears.
At WildEarth Guardians, we envision a thriving grizzly bear population that is connected across the west. We have a robust history of protecting and defending grizzly bears, and working to make sure they can safely move between core population areas and are not killed because livestock roam their natural habitat unprotected and unaccounted for. A major focus of our work right now is preparing to fight their potential de-listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to petitions sent by Wyoming and Montana.
My presentation at the campout focused on Montana’s petition. Montana sent in a request to the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist grizzly bears living in and around the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in northern Montana, and to return them to state management. We need look no further than Montana’s management of wolves under the Gianforte administration to imagine how grizzlies will fare. While we await the federal government’s decision, we have jumped on every opportunity to speak up for grizzly bear protection in Montana’s state processes, including fighting bad bills in the last legislative session and participating in rulemakings related to grizzly bear management.
I ended my presentation by acknowledging that what we do is hard. While grizzly bears inspire awe and fascination in most, others view them with hatred and fear. Hatred and fear are powerful drivers, moving some people to push for killing over coexistence. But we at WildEarth Guardians remain undeterred. These bears deserve to live in their natural habitat, and it is up to people to adapt and coexist with them. That is the only way forward. We fight with compassion, grit, and inspiration; we fight with science and facts. While what we do is hard, we find resilience by coming together in wild places surrounded by wildlife to share our stories, our passion, and our why.