say a move to remove protections for the spiritual touchstone of
native culture threatens their sovereignty.
Has the grizzly
bear recovered enough in Yellowstone National Park to be removed
from the protection of the Endangered Species Act?
The federal government and some state agencies seem to think
so. For more than a year now, the United States Fish and Wildlife
Service has been moving toward delisting
grizzly bears. There are about 750 bears living in and around
Yellowstone, well above the 136 that lived there when the government
protected the Yellowstone population in 1975.
Native American groups, however, argue that the bears have not
recovered and that any proposal to remove protections or trophy-hunt
the animals ignores tribal sovereignty and culture. Some tribes
even call it cultural
"The grizzly was and remains the physical manifestation of the
spirit of the earth, to me, and many others," said R. Bear Stands
Last, cofounder of Guardians
of Our Ancestors' Legacy, a coalition of nearly 50 tribes from
six states that have come together to oppose the grizzly bear delisting.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)
The bears play an important role in the culture for many tribes
in the West. "The grizzly was the first two-legged to walk upon
this land," Bear Stands Last said. "The grizzly is a teacher and
was, in essence, the first medicine person who taught the curing
and healing practices adopted by many peoples."
Even with that cultural history, the push to delist the bears
moves forward. The FWS has sent out two rounds of letters
to several tribes, but GOAL said that does not meet the standards
for the tribal
consultations that are required under the Endangered Species
Act and other laws. Last December, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
passed a formal resolution opposing
the delisting proposal.
"FWS has made no serious attempt to adhere to the established
consultation protocols and mandates, all of which are clearly established
and are integral to the trust responsibility held by the federal
government toward tribal nations," said Bear Stands Last.
Agency spokesperson Ryan Moehring said the FWS has offered to
consult with 48 tribes and has held five government-to-government
meetings. It also plans a tribal webinar and conference call on
Nov. 13 to "listen to their concerns and answer questions."
Grizzlies did briefly lose their endangered species status in
2007, but a court ruling in 2009 returned it after finding that
the bears' food sources, such as whitebark pine nuts, were at risk.
Bear Stands Last said nothing has improved in Yellowstone.
"It is not only the decimation of whitebark pine and cutthroat
trout; there are also various berry subsets declining due to climate
change," he said, noting that pushes grizzlies further outside
the park in search of food, which puts them in further conflict
Those conflicts have been on the rise, with a grizzly killing
a Yellowstone hiker in August. The grizzly was later euthanized.
An estimated 46 bears have been killed in Yellowstone this year,
according to reports.
At least 14 were killed in response to bears attacking livestock
while an unknown number were shot by hunters.
Bear Stands Last said the push to start hunting grizzlies in
and around Yellowstone stands in stark opposition to Native American
traditions. "Tribal people on this continent come from a hunting
tradition, one of subsistence," he said. "For most associated with
GOAL, eating a grizzly bear would be tantamount to cannibalism.
These trophy hunters do not come from a hunting tradition, they
come from a killing tradition."
John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy,
and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other