random thought, wildlife

Delisting Grizzlies | Ensuring A Species’ Survival

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is intended to lead to recovery and delisting, so long as adequate plans exist to assure recovery continues.

The ESA requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepare a recovery plan for species that are listed as threatened or endangered. For many years now, all of the recovery criteria established for Yellowstone grizzlies have been met or exceeded.”

— The National Wildlife Federation

Let me first state a fact: I am not a hunter. Nor do I have any desire to ever hunt bears, for any reason. I love bears more than any other creature on this planet… second only to dogs and (possibly) humans. I deeply care about their survival. And as a consequence, I have thought much about and researched extensively the best paths to ensuring their survival in the lower 48.


But let me be clear; I am not an environmentalist. I am a conservationist. The former, I believe, is responsible for gross mismanagement of our wild places for far too long and leads to a mentality of “playing God” in places like Yellowstone.

Even though I personally do not hunt, I respect those that do. Especially and specifically when they responsibly use the whole animal for meat, clothing, etc. But there are a few other purposes that hunting serves, that many of us city-folk and academic types forget; non-human species are safer when they maintain a healthy fear of humans, and we humans, as the apex of all apex predators, are tasked with managing and keeping animal populations healthy. And sometimes that includes hunting for culling purposes.

According to Nick Gevock, an opinion columnist for High Country News, “It is true that such management might well include hunting… look at the remarkable track record of species that are currently hunted: Nearly every species of wildlife that hunters value has thrived in our country, and with sound scientific management, grizzlies can do the same, and even grow in both numbers and range. It’s difficult for many non-hunters to understand, but it’s a solution that works in Alaska with brown bears and can work in the Lower 48 as well.” He goes on to cite a study conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “In fact, a study of four brown bear populations in Alaska — two populations in national parks that were not hunted and two adjoining populations that are — found that the hunted bears had larger litter sizes and better cub survival.”


I find trophy hunting wasteful. On a personal level, I do not understand the appeal. But let’s look at the facts:

1. Hunters are typically some of the best conservationists on the planet.The US Fish & Wildlife Services states “The sale of hunting licenses, tags, and stamps is the primary source of funding for most state wildlife conservation efforts.” It goes on to say, “By respecting seasons and limits, purchasing all required licenses, and paying federal excise taxes on hunting equipment and ammunition, individual hunters make a big contribution towards ensuring the future of many species of wildlife and habitat for the future. By paying the Federal excise tax on hunting equipment, hunters are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs that benefit many wildlife species, both hunted and non- hunted. Each year, nearly $200 million in hunters’ federal excise taxes are distributed to State agencies to support wildlife management programs, the purchase of lands open to hunters, and hunter education and safety classes.” But more than just their tax dollars speaking loudly, hunters are also members of “local hunting clubs and national conservation organizations work to protect the future of wildlife by setting aside thousands of acres of habitat and speaking up for conservation in our national and state capitals.”

2. Hunting is very big business. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife “Hunting is much more than a traditional American pastime. It creates more than 700,000 jobs nationwide. New studies now show that annual spending by America’s 14 million hunters amounts to $22.1 billion. By comparison, and if hypothetically ranked as a ‘corporation,’ that revenue figure would put hunting in thirty-fifth place on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest businesses, right between J.C. Penney and United Parcel Service.” This pumps much needed resources directly into local economies and important conservation/ research efforts. So whether you agree with hunting or not, it is a vitally important part of the conservation economy.

3. Humans are an important species within the world ecosystems. Environmentalism paints the picture that humans are the main problem with the environment, which in some respects may hold some truth. However, the movement is largely based on the mediocracy principle, essentially stating that humans are mediocre and no more special, exceptional, or superior to any other species. The movement has many well-meaning individuals who truly care about the natural world, but unfortunately this whole premise is flawed. Clearly humans are the dominant species, and I could argue are quite exceptional, special, and superior. This does not mean we are the “center of the universe” or the only species that matters, or that we should destroy the planet or leave other species decimated. It is not an either/ or. Therein lies the biggest fallacy. To many environmentalists, the choice is either to be on the side that is hell bent on destruction, or to consider ourselves no different from a dung beetle and therefore refuse logic and common sense policies. There is middle ground. It is called stewardship and conservation.

4. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem includes a massive swath of land (nearly 6 million acres) that is much more than just Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Ranchers and others’ livelihoods depend on the bear’s fear of human conflict. They no longer fear people. A study in the 1990’s by Jon Swenson, Department of Biology and Nature Conservation at The Agricultural University of Norway (to read the full study, click here) observes in general that bears are more likely to avoid humans in areas where they are hunted than where they are fully protected. What makes things complicated is the availability of food when humans are present. Food storage and proper disposal is still a major issue in bear areas, regardless of hunting. A major rebuttal to the argument that hunting creates more fear in bears of humans is that there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. However, there is quite a lot of observational evidence dating all the way back to the 16th century in Eurasia to support the assertion, and so far, none to suggest that bears would somehow fear humans less or the same from if hunted. The responsibility is on us to be realistic, finding a way to coexist with less human-bear conflict which in the long run will help protect the species.

5. After delisting, grizzly bears will remain protected in the 3 National Parks they call home, and under special regulations in the surrounding states’ National Forests and designated Wilderness Areas. Hunting seasons and quotas will be limited and determined by biologists and conservationists projections, updated yearly to reflect proper wildlife management, just as they do with elk, deer, moose, black bear, big horn sheep, etc.

Anyone who spends much time in grizzly country, especially hunters, know that an unfortunately large segment of these bears have grown to associate humans with easy food. When an elk hunter fires his rifle in grizzly country, he/ she knows that it is only a matter of time before a bear will show up. This is potentially the exact opposite of what we might have after a few generations of bears that experience being the prey of (now) predator humans. They will try to get as far away from gunshots as possible. See the aforementioned Swenson Study.

This very simple fact could save dozens of bears lives every year that otherwise would get into conflicts with humans because they lack any fear of us. And we all know that the bear loses when it gets into human conflict. Protocol is usually to relocate the “problem” bear first, or to dispatch (kill) it. The fact is, the government killed 31 grizzly bears in 2015, for various reasons, mostly due to human-bear conflict. Could these numbers be lower (or at least the same) with the introduction of a very limited-tag trophy hunt scenario?


According to Chris Servheen, Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), “the bears have met every criteria set in a recovery plan to have them removed from the Endangered Species List, or ‘delisted.'” If delisted, grizzlies would no longer be protected under the stricter Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, and would be managed by the six surrounding National Forests and to the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The populations inside Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks would still be highly protected and managed by the National Park Service. If you would like to read the entire ESA, it is available as a pdf here.

Defenders of Wildlife, an organization who “is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities,” states, “Today, there are an estimated 1,800 grizzly bears remaining in five populations in the lower 48 states. Most of these bears are located in the Northern Continental Divide Population (including Glacier National Park) and the Yellowstone Population.” That includes the conservative estimate of 700+ in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Many conservation biologists argue against delisting, stating that it isn’t enough to protect grizzly bears if their habitat isn’t protected as well. Servheen counters that “the Service looks at more than raw numbers for delisting, including the present or threatened destruction or curtailment of bear habitat or range; overuse of habitat for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes; disease or predation; the lack or inadequacy of regulations; and other natural or manmade factors affecting the population’s continued existence.”

“The key to success is adaptive management,” said Servheen. “As conditions and the needs of the bears change over time, management can change to address those needs,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the bears will be around for hundreds of years. All three state plans are good,” Servheen said, “and don’t have the political problems that have afflicted the ESA delisting plan for wolves.”


So what does all of this mean for these magnificent bears? Well, it means great news; grizzly bears in the lower 48 have made a remarkable recovery, thanks to the Endangered Species Act. It is a “huge conservation success story“, But it doesn’t mean they are out of the proverbial “woods.”

The states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have already stepped up to create comprehensive plans to manage the grizzly bear populations and to protect them from a return to the ‘threatened’ status. What this all comes down to is ensuring that bears have adequate and sufficient habitat within which to roam and avoid dangerous human contact.

I simply want to start a dialogue here that is somewhere in between the two extremes. Anyone can say what they want about me, but my main concern is the great bear’s long term survival, and to me, that means less human-bear conflict.

From where I stand, I see two main groups that are on polar opposite sides, unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle to find a balance between what is right and good for bears, and what is reasonable and fair for humans. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to ensure the survival (and thriving) of this magnificent creature, all the while, managing it’s territory and population to ensure the safety and livelihood of the people who live within the massive boundaries of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

I readily admit that I do not have all the answers. Neither do you or anyone else, but I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings here, in hopes that we can come to understand each other and work toward a common goal: protecting a true symbol of the wild, and maintaining a healthy grizzly bear population, for generations to come.

— Andrew

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photography, travel

remembering travels of the recent past

a few weeks ago i posted about july being a boring month for me.  especially with the anticipation of an amazing upcoming august.  well, august has changed a little, but july remains the same.

so, with the “july-factor” in mind, i decided that reliving my recent travels might help lift my spirits a bit.  and just maybe for a minute i’ll stop whining and feel thankful for the wonderful places i’ve been to see this year.

’07-’08 was a blessed year for me regarding travel, and ’08-’09 is already shaping up to be exponentially better.

i guess dallas is where it all begins and ends for me right now.  and though i’m not so fond of her, dallas has enough work to allow me to travel more than most.  so i’ll think kindly of her for the moment…

austin is kind of my secret girlfriend.  we courted for over 5 years, but i had to leave her for a more practical lover.  so sad.  i do sneak around from time to time though… just to see her pretty face, and hear her alluring voice.



brazos bend, texas.  my favorite place to play with alligators in texas!!  if you want to see some prehistoric monsters, i highly recommend this park.  it’s just a short drive southwest of houston.

cabo san lucas, mexico!  my friends joe and erin got married there last summer, and guess who was able to go for free in exchange for a little wedding photography.  well worth it…


not too far from the city, somewhere out in east texas, is a private getaway, known only as “timado” to the few elites who know of it.  i was let in to the inner-circle last fall when i was invited to a double bachelor party extravaganza.  well, okay, so it’s not very elite, more like a good place to drink beer, go fishing, and grow out your mullet.  but it’s really fun.  and a great place to catch snakes and shoot fireworks.

big bend national park, texas.  ah, the big bend of the rio grande.  one of my classic favorites.  this trip was the first of two for the year, but it ended in tragedy.  my truck somehow found its way to the bottom of a four-foot-deep washout.  at least i only had to hike 18 miles through the desert before i saw someone to get help – hahaha!  what a great trip!


another friend of mine, adam, got married in wonderful savannah, georgia.  what a great place.  i had been once before, but rest assured that i could never get sick of savannah.







so, yet another friend, anna, got married in her home town of philadelphia, pa.  big year for marriage apparently.  and no offense to my other friends, but this was the best one yet.  i’d never been to philly, but it quickly became one of my favorite cities.  partially because two of my favorite people were there – anna and elaine.


another first-time favorite city, san francisco!  i lucked out with this one because of some awesome friends of mine, john and bd.  the brothers had an extra ticket to the 2007 baseball all-star game, and i got the invite.  we had a fantastic time at the weekend’s festivities, and we even made our way out to napa for a day.  amazing trip!





i lived in pinedale, wyoming a few years ago when i worked for a small newspaper.  it’s a tiny town just south of jackson (or to you tourists, jackson hole… hahaha!).  consequently, it is also very close to grand teton and yellowstone national parks.  doesn’t get much better than that.  so, since i reluctantly moved back to texas in 2006, i’ve made the pilgrimage back at least twice a year.  this was my first trip of the year, in the autumn.  and it was breathtaking – just the way i remembered it.  i hope to someday move back…



yee haw, boy howdy!  ARKANSAS |ˈär,kanzəs|!!  the white river in arkansas is incredibly beautiful, no doubt.  i went on a weekend trip up to northwest ar with some friends last fall to do a little fly fishing, and enjoy the scenery.  i don’t know how to fly fish, so i just enjoyed the eye candy, and made photos all weekend.  i think we’ll try to go again this fall.






oklahoma city, oklahoma.  we have tons of family in oklahoma – our rival state to the north.  and in all honesty, i don’t visit enough.  it’s really a great state.  though the university by the same name will always be my arch enemy.

the okc bombing memorial is stunning… a quiet experience… completely heartbreaking.






big bend, part deux.  i took my new ride to experience the land that claimed my previous truck’s life only months before.  wow, i really like my new car.  especially with gas prices the way they are.  i was able to do the entire 5 day trip for under $250!!  that includes 1500 miles of driving, four days of bland camp food, and priceless nights under a clear desert sky.  it was a really rejuvenating experience.  i needed it.



the quintessential western road trip, executed at the worst time of year.  my friend, bd, got a wild hair in early november, and decided to plan one of the most classic of american road trips, down the 101.  it was originally planned for the next spring, but neither of us could wait that long…

we set off just a few days after thanksgiving.  we left dallas, and spend the first night in denver.  then from denver, we made our way through blizzards, over togwotee pass to jackson, wyoming.  we had the privilege meeting up with my old roommate, emily, and previous editor, noah.  we had way too much fun.

the next day in spite of splitting headaches, we were off to boise, idaho and then to portland, oregon.  portland may be my new favorite city (i know… i say that a lot).  it reminds me so much of austin, but even prettier.  we spent a few days there, and then made our way up to seattle.  another great city.  somehow, we ended up at a seedy bar called “shorty’s” that night.  it was clown-themed, which made it creepy to begin with, but it also happened to be in, what i found out later to be, seattle’s “crack district”.  that was the first, and hopefully last time i’ve ever seen someone smoking crack.  right outside the bar, in the rain!?  interesting.

so we were ready to get back on the road after that night.  from seattle, we drove back to portland, then on down to eugene…  go ducks!!!  from eugene, we headed over to the coast, and that’s where we hooked up with the legendary highway 101, which we followed the rest of the way down to los angeles.  the scenery was absolutely amazing from the oregon coast all the way to big sur.  and even south of big sur to monterey was quite nice.  really, the trip down the 1 was so overwhelming in its grandeur and raw beauty, that for me (someone who is already a painfully bad writer), is too hard to put in to words.  plus, i’m a photographer anyway.  so i hope the images speak for themselves.

in spite of taking this trip in the most off part of the off season, it was incredible.  i can only hope that i have the opportunity to do this trip again at some point in my life.  i should be so lucky.

my virgin voyage to chitown.  seriously though, i was such a nerd on the flight there, and in my rent car.  the only two albums i listened to the whole weekend were sufjan stevens’ come on feel the illinoise, and greetings from michigan, the great lake state.  but they fit so well!  and they are two of the best albums of all time.  so at least they had that going for them.

chicago is certainly a cool town.  i need to spend more time there.  also, it was december, sooooooo, just a little cold.  maybe i’ll see what it’s like in spring…







ah, spring in wyoming… what a segue – damn, i’m good!!  so this was the second (well, technically third, if you count the short drive thru on the road trip in november) time for me to visit my old haunt in about six months.  what a treat!

yet another friend, kim, was getting married in pinedale, so it was as good an excuse as any to go visit one of my favorite places in all the world.  and it certainly did not disappoint.  i camped for the first time in single digit weather on eight feet of snow pack too.  so that was cool.  but i learned a valuable lesson:  don’t ever do that again!!

in all seriousness, there is something about western wyoming.  a special quality that lacks clear explanation.  ask anyone that has spent any time there, and they’ll tell you…  it’s a deeply spiritual experience.  and there’s something about the winter (which is much of spring as well).  it is what quiet looks like… if that makes any sense.

anyway, if you’re still reading, i feel sorry for you because you may have severe mental problems.  or into s&m or something.  but i promise that i’m almost done.

there are two innocence mission songs that always make me nostalgic about my travels, so i’ll end with some lyrics.  if you’re unfamiliar with the innocence mission, i would highly recommend you give them a good listen.  the first song is called, song about traveling.  really… go figure!?  and the second is the brotherhood of man.

“a man said, ‘why?’  why does traveling, in cars and in trains, make him feel sad?  a beautiful sadness, i’ve felt this before.  it’s the people in the city, you’ll never know.  it is everything you pass by, wondering will you ever… return.”

“waiting at the airport on my suitcase, a girl traveling from spain became my sudden friend.  though i did not learn her name.  and when the subway dimmed… a stranger lit my way.  this is the brotherhood of man.”

“i never can say what i mean… but you will understand… coming through clouds on the way.  this is the brotherhood of man.  this is the brotherhood of man.”

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2008