While rumours had been circulating that the iconic Yellowstone grizzly bear known as Scarface – or Bear 211 – had been spotted roaming a remote corner of the park, it’s now known that the talk was just wishful thinking. In fact, not only is this beloved bear dead, he was killed by a bullet and not old age.
Earlier today, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks issued a press release announcing that Scarface was killed last November, and that his death is still under investigation. Though Montana released very few details – and chose to wait on releasing the information until after their state’s comment period on delisting the grizzly closed – the fate of Scarface is becoming clearer.
Multiple media outlets have reported that a hunter shot and killed Scarface – and that the hunter’s story is currently under investigation. It’s illegal to kill a grizzly – for now – in the United States, but not if it’s in self defense. Yet with an investigation that has taken six months already and has no end date in sight, this is clearly not your normal case of self defense, raising the specter of poaching or a so-called ‘hate kill’.
If the killing of Scarface proves to be self-defense, it raises several serious questions, including whether bear spray was used – or even carried – by the hunter, an attack deterrent that keeps both person and bear alive and one that we’ve argued should be mandatory for all backcountry users, especially in and near national parks.
Moreover, elk kills are an obvious bear attractant. When conservation areas like Yellowstone aren’t large enough to cover an adult grizzly bears’ home range, it can’t be surprising to anyone that a large male like Scarface might investigate it. The fact there is no buffer zone, no special management rules (a grizzly is hungry in November – very hungry – and this seems like a poor time to place elk hunters and bears on a collision course), and too little space for large carnivores to roam freely begs the question as too why anyone would think the Yellowstone grizzly is not endangered?
Like many of you, Scarface has profoundly impacted each of our lives. He was Jill’s first grizzly in Yellowstone. He was my first grizzly ever. He was the bear that gave birth to the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition and the campaign that united six million voices to protect the rare white Kermode or spirit bear. He even remembered my birthday one year, by showing up that day with an elk carcass.
After not only surviving, but thriving for 25 years, the idea that he was deprived the opportunity to live out his last few years in the wild is deeply saddening and angering. Though I’m trying to resist passing judgement and offering scorn while so little is known, I can say with confidence that today offers a stark reminder of how little protection is truly afforded to grizzlies. Of course, these few safeguards for grizzly bears will be significantly reduced in the Lower 48 if delisting from the endangered species list proceeds.
Thank you for all you gave us and all you gave so many. There is so much to write, yet I’m speechless. You taught us how people and nature can co-exist and broke bear stereotypes that helped cultivate advocates for grizzlies – and, indeed, nature – around the world.
I hope you finally find the peace and freedom that you’ve always deserved, but that our world, apparently, couldn’t allow you to have. All I can say is that my heaven includes bears.
I’ll miss you, my old friend. Always.