Two days ago, a grizzly bear sow and two cubs of the year attacked and killed a solo hiker in the Lake region of Yellowstone National Park. What is an unspeakable tragedy is about to become an unthinkable travesty, as the bears in question are about to be killed within the next few days, if not hours, without a public outcry.
As someone who has worked in bear conservation and with bear biologists for two decades, I do understand that when an attack is predatory, almost always the animal must be put down. But based on the information released – solo hiker, off trail, no bear spray, prime grizzly habitat – it seems very unlikely that it was a predatory attack, but rather a case of a sow defending her cubs. As such, it’s imperative the proper time is given to collecting evidence and that there is not a rush to judgement – especially one as irreversible as putting down a bear family genetically critical to the park’s grizzly population.
If the sow and cubs in question are who I believe they are – given known territory – I’ve been fortunate enough to document and observe the 20 year old grizzly known as Blaze for most of her life. She is a bear who has never exhibited aggression toward people.
I’ve no doubt that she is getting cranky in her old age and having seen her pushed far too often by visitors this year, I also suspect that she is more defensive of her cubs now than ever before. This is not a critique of park policy or park rangers in the Lake District – the gold standard in excellence and professionalism, in my opinion. It is, however, important to note that there simply not enough bear management rangers to deal with the dramatic increase in tourists you’ve seen in Yellowstone this year. And this sow should not be held responsible for following her natural instincts and defending her young, especially if her actions were partially a byproduct of capacity problems in the park.
In my mind, the true legacy of this tragedy shouldn’t be three dead bears, but rather improved guidelines for hiking. Surely we all know there is an inherent risk every time we step onto a trail. Going forward, it should be illegal to hike off trail, to hike in groups fewer than three in prime grizzly habitat, and – most critically – to hike without bear spray.
I urge you to URGENTLY make your voice heard and ask park management give this case the proper due diligence it requires and monitor, rather than kill, this sow and cubs.
Blaze deserves a second chance if she was defending her young in an area where the bears should be coming first. Most certainly, deserves more than a knee-jerk reaction to satisfy public safety concerns, which won’t truly be resolved until root causes are addressed.
I thank you for your time and consideration,
- Simon Jackson