We have been amazed at the flood of publicity and sensationalism surrounding the latest bear attack at Yellowstone National Park. Since the body was found on August 7th, people have been up in arms about what to do with the bears involved – a mother and her two cubs. Sadly, the decision made was to euthanize the mother bear and find placements for the cubs. However, there are a few points we would like to make that support the difficult decision that park rangers had to make facing the fate of these bears.
First, we would like to remind the population of the USA that we have some amazing national parks. But, please realize that they are still PARKS. Yes, the staff works hard to keep the animals, plants, and geology in its natural state, but that involves intense management of the resources. In Yellowstone right now, they estimate there are 750-800 grizzly bears. Yellowstone is 28,000 square miles, but that gives each bear a range of only 35 square miles. Based on a study of grizzlies in YNP completed in the 1960’s, the smallest range for a grizzly during its lifetime was 43 square miles (70 km), (http://www.bearbiology.com/fileadmin/tpl/Downloads/URSUS/Vol_3/FCraighead_Vol_3.pdf). Based on this data alone, the current population of grizzlies in YNP are about at their limit for natural habitat. We fear that the general population has a lack of understanding that the National Park Service, as well as state and local park services, have a duty to maintain the “baseline” balance of the ecosystems that they protect. In addition, they must take into account the human factor – how we interact with the ecosystem and its inhabitants while we live or visit there. All of us would likely wish for every animal and plant to live out its lifespan on its own terms within these parks. However, management is a major part of the work that park rangers and other staff provide to the park system. Park rangers go through schooling and training on par with both wildlife biologists and law enforcement, in addition to internships, apprenticeships, and job shadowing. Park staff is highly trained and many rules and guidelines are put into place to guide national and state park staffers when they have to make these tough decisions.
In comparison, Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota has a “Buffalo Round-Up” every September. These bison are rounded up from the park and sold out to farms and individuals, not for an easy retirement, but usually for butchering. Herein lies the quandary: YNP kills one bear that attacked, ate, and cached a human, and the world goes up in arms. Custer State Park rounds up hundreds of bison each year that are (mostly) killed to assist herd management, and it draws thousands of observers to the event. If the life of one animal is so important, why are the lives of hundreds others considered an exciting spectacle? Perspective.
Second, we are concerned about the move to boycott YNP or National Parks in general. We do grieve the death of this beautiful mother grizzly, but we also know that she will not be brought back through the negative actions of the American people. On the contrary, visiting the parks, donating funds, and sharing awareness of the animal kingdom with others are the BEST way to honor her death. Without our funds and support, there will be no parks like Yellowstone. We, as Americans, are our own nature supporters. Please do not consider marking YNP off your visitation list, because there are thousands of other animals there that need your support. Our donations and purchases of park passes fund the park rangers’ salaries, provide improvements to the park roads and buildings, and even facilitate educational programs and better wildlife management techniques. What if the three million visitors that come each year decided to boycott in the years to come? What would happen to the REST of the bears, not to mention bison, wolves, foxes, elk, moose, and birds? Without money coming in from visitors and supporters, park ranger numbers would decline, leaving more of the park area exposed to less, necessary law enforcement – enforcement that keeps naïve tourists alive, stops them from harming animals or themselves, and makes YNP the great place that it is to visit.
Finally, we send our prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Lance Crosby. Losing a loved one in such a tragic way is so difficult, and for your loss to become a spectacle of social media would be borderline unnerving for us. Please honor his family and friends and humble yourselves to grieve alongside them. Speculation and the internet go hand-in-hand, and since no one but Lance was at the site of his death, the guessing should be left to the officials in respect for his loved ones. We also send our condolences to the YNP family, especially those who knew this bear intimately. Twenty years is a long time to have a relationship with an animal, and they can become like family. Decisions like these are faced every day through the human-animal family bond – pets, wildlife management, even hunting –and I know they are taken deep to heart by all who love those animals because they truly know and respect them. Please have a heart and show compassion to both families during this time. Do not get caught up in the sensationalism of social media or the speculation of conspiracy theories. Laws and guidelines were followed by YNP staff as they have been for years, as painful as they may be to carry out, and as personal as they may feel to all those with vested interest in the park.
We encourage you to go visit Yellowstone, show your support – if not for the decisions of the management, then for the wildlife that is lucky enough to live there. See for yourself how hard this experience must have been for all involved, and gain a better understanding of what a park ranger must know, learn, and do during their time at the park. As fun as many of us feel that job would be – who wouldn’t want to live and work in YNP? – There is a reality that only comes out to the public at times like these. And be thankful for the rangers… without them, there would be many, many more bear attacks each year. During our last visit in July, we witnessed a grizzly being chased down by a throng of people with cameras, and two rangers were able to hold them back, stop cars, and allow the BEAR to have the right of way to get across a road safely. They put themselves between the crazy tourists and the wildlife of Yellowstone every day. And I mean Every. Day.
For more information on the wildlife or other management of Yellowstone National Park, see their website: http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/management/index.htm.