Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bear baiting must end

Two weeks ago, a grizzly bear turned up in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem 50 years after the last grizzly was killed there. Scientists and conservationists have known for some time that the large Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness area offers secure habitat for grizzlies. I and many other conservationists dreamed of the day that the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness would be truly wild and once again and contain grizzlies. However, sadly this grizzly was not only killed but was killed over bait by a hunter from Tennessee. Without guidance from the outfitter who accepted his money for this privilege, he probably did not know that this was indeed a very rare bear. Bear baiting season opened at the end of August.

Unfortunately, an effort in the 1990s failed to end this barbaric, repugnant and unethical method of killing black bears. This grizzly bear had managed to avoid humans for several years in the wilderness, but drought conditions and impending hibernation drove him to the bait. This is such a sad waste of a magnificent creature. If we do not act to protect grizzlies, it will not be long before the few small grizzly bear populations in the contiguous United States begin to blink out.

We know that a bear that becomes habituated to humans is a dead bear—and often people are hurt or killed when this occurs. Here in the Wood River Valley, we, and all people who live near wildlife, are cautioned not to feed wildlife. Yet, bear baiting, which does just that, is allowed to continue.

Scientists have learned from many years of study that fragmented populations of rare animals lead to what is called the extinction vortex. Respected conservation biologists recommend a system of core reserves and travel corridors designed to prevent fragmentation. While a roadless corridor can go a long way to allowing bears and other rare wildlife to move between populations, if every bear that leaves a protected area or park falls victim to bear baiting, we can never expect to leave a sustainable population of grizzly bears for generations to come.

Attracting bears with human food—and carcasses of other bears—is not an ethical practice where black bears are concerned. But continuing this practice when there is even the slightest possibility that a grizzly will be killed is irresponsible. I urge you to let the Idaho Fish and Game Commission (P.O. Box 25, Boise, Idaho 83707) know that this unsporting practice must be stopped. Idaho's wildlife is too precious to allow this repugnant practice to continue.

Christine Gertschen

Sun Valley

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