In Bozeman Tuesday, more than 200 people came to a public hearing and information session on delisting Yellowstone area grizzly bears.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put on the event. The agency in March proposed removing Yellowstone area grizzlies from the endangered species list that they’ve been on since 1975.
The hearing offered anyone who wanted to speak for three minutes to do so, and of the 50 who chose to speak, more than 40 opposed removing the bear from the list.
A lot of the comments echoed those of Bozeman resident Pat Simmons.
"I am vehemently opposed to grizzly bear delisting. I do not think your projections and research are adequate."
Simmons and many others said they don't think Yellowstone-area bears should be delisted because climate change and other factors are threatening several of the bears' primary food sources.
"You have not planned for the major decreases that have and will continue to occur in whitebark pine seeds, cutthroat trout, and moths. Global warming, insect infestations, and lake trout have and will negatively impact these sources of food," Simmons said.
Simmons and others said that diminishing food sources will force bears to take greater risks seeking meat as a food source, including preying on livestock, which will lead to more conflicts with humans, which means more bears being killed.
Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and staff didn't respond to peoples' comments last night, but the agency maintains that they've taken threats to bears food sources into account. The delisting proposal concludes that bears will be able to adapt to new sources of food. And agency biologists say doing so won't cause enough bear deaths to threaten the viability of the Yellowstone area population.
Another criticism voiced repeatedly last night was that delisting will allow states to take over management of grizzlies outside Yellowstone National Park, and that could mean they'll be allowed to be hunted. Bozeman resident Pat Simmons:
"I oppose grizzly bear hunting, even thought I normally support big game hunting. Grizzly bears are not killed for food, but solely for trophies. This is a disgusting human trait. Putting a beautiful wild animal on one's wall in their house or their business is pathetic."
Several who spoke last night said they were either hunters themselves or are OK with big game hunting, but oppose hunting grizzlies.
Bozeman resident Randy Newberg hosts a hunting show on cable TV, and 15 years ago, was appointed to a government advisory panel on how states should manage grizzlies by then Montana Governor Marc Racicot. Newberg says people living around Yellowstone agreed to make a lot of changes to accommodate grizzly bears, in exchange for some special bear protection rules going away when the bear population rebounded. Newberg says there are now plenty of grizzlies, and it's time to take them off of the endangered species list.
"Unfortunately a lot of people are here asking you to break that deal. They're asking you to not hold up the deal that was struck. And to this point, what we've dealt with is a wildlife experiment. If you do not continue honoring the agreement that was struck 15 years ago, this becomes a social experiment. And quite honestly, I'm not that excited about being a continuing lab rat in that social experiment that some are asking you to conduct here."
Newberg's views were in the minority in Bozeman, but Fish and Wildlife officials said that at an identical event in Cody, Wyoming the night before, opinion ran two-to-one in favor of delisting, although the crowd there was much smaller, with only 18 people speaking.
Several people in Bozeman said there need to be more public hearings, specifically one in Jackson, Wyoming. They say the Fish and Wildlife Service is discounting the economic value of grizzlies to towns like Jackson and Gardiner that depend on Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park tourism.
The public comment period on the proposal to remove Yellowstone area grizzly bears from the endangered species list closes May 10. Federal wildlife managers say they hope to have a final decision on whether to proceed with delisting by the end of this year.