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November 26, 2013 8:27 am

Grizzly debate need not be unbearable

Written by Gib Mathers

It was flat-out dark when I was walking down the trail. I was jumpy, afraid of the things that go bump at night.



There was no moon; only stars that were tiny pinpricks of light poking through a sky of black satin.

Objects only became visible when they were a few paces away. And that is how the object of my least desires appeared: A big, testy grizzly bear 10 yards away.

Evidently, the bruin hadn’t heard my approach over the gushing creek. I thought I was really up the creek.

He was not a happy camper.

He reared up. His front paws extended like a boxer going into a clinch. His eyes were beady and mean.

I was thinking about the people that lectured me about packing bear spray. I was thinking of the bear spray I left at home and the .357 Magnum stashed in my car’s trunk. I was thinking these could be my final thoughts.

The bear huffed, dropped down to all fours and hopped around.

I kept my eyes downcast and debated backing away. No trees to climb, just scraggly willows that would be hard-pressed to support a sparrow, let alone an obtuse hiker in a fanny pack.

I kept my eyes downcast. “Mr. Griz,” I said, trying to sound relaxed, “I just want to pass.”

He huffed some more and shook his head like a mule resisting a bridle. Finally, he turned his head slightly and then disappeared like a puff of smoke in the wind.

The encounter lasted 15 or 20 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.

I was shaken. I marched out of there just as fast as my feet would fly.

It might appear I’d applaud delisting and hunting grizzlies after my scary encounter. If a few are shot, there would be fewer to frighten or eat yours truly, right?

I’ve been accused of being a bear-lover or wolf-hugger, and God forbid, a Democrat. But I love this state and all the wildlife, from the big predators to the majestic elk to the comical squirrels that bark when I pass by.

I’m still on the fence with delisting, but I believe the grizzly population can sustain itself in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem despite delisting.

Preliminary reports suggest grizzlies can do OK without whitebark pine nuts, the tiny high-protein seeds grizzlies devour prior to hibernation if they can find them. I’m taking those reports with a grain of salt until a scientific peer review supports or invalidates the claim, but it’s food for thought.

I believe government agencies should be forthcoming with all information. We don’t need spin control, we need candor. After all, the taxpayers pay those officials’ wages, and the wildlife belong to the people, not to bureaucrats.

It’s a given, in this age of litigation, that delisting will spawn lawsuits. Some will say the only victors are lawyers earning a comfortable living by filing umpteen lawsuits. They are right to a certain degree, but watchdog groups are essential to ensure the government is acting in the best interests of wildlife, the environment and its citizens.

This is also the age of polarization. Let’s work together for a change. Everyone should clarify their stance and not ridicule other people’s opinions.

After reporting bear and wolf issues for the last few years, I have learned that both sides often have valid points. Instead of uncompromising criticism, let’s meet in the middle to do what is right for Wyoming wildlife.

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