August is typically known as fire season around Montana, a fact made abundantly clear when the Lolo Complex fires blew up in recent days. But it's also bear season, and two bits of recent news could mean trouble for the species.
Grizzly attacks left four people wounded in and near Yellowstone National Park last Thursday in two separate incidents. Two hikers needed medical attention after tussling with a sow near Canyon Village. Later the same afternoon, two Bureau of Land Management contract workers stumbled upon a grizzly that was presumably sleeping in a day bed. One worker required stitches for bite wounds on his thigh and buttocks, while the other suffered bite wounds on his hand while trying to use bear spray.
The media jumped on the stories, with Gawker sarcastically warning of "mindless killing machines" on the loose. Other national outlets kept the news more in check while adding that grizzlies have killed four people in the Yellowstone region over the past three years.
The timing of these headlines wasn't exactly ideal considering last week's other bit of bear news. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced that it will host a string of open houses later this month to gather public feedback on a comprehensive draft management plan for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The document essentially outlines how the state will handle responsibility for the species if and when the bears are delisted ... again.
One management approach outlined in the draft plan calls for limited public hunts on grizzliesa prospect that's been much discussed in Yellowstone and elsewhere in recent years. Regulated hunting could help remove unwary or human-habituated bears from the population, the plan reads, and reinforce human avoidance behaviors. Ultimately, such hunts could promote "the long-term survival and social tolerance of the grizzly population."
FWP's plan further highlights that, until 1991, regulated hunts had "a long successful history in Montana." The document steers the hunting discussion toward male grizzlies, which could "increase cub survival and recruitment," and stresses that hunting would be "only one tool among many to provide for the long-term recovery and survival of grizzly bears."
The question of future hunting of grizzly bears as a management tool is certainly worthy of further discussion. It's a topic that will likely dominate FWP's upcoming open houses. But let's hope recent headlines don't skew the conversation.