Following a spate of grizzly bear attacks in 2021, Montana officials have called for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to lift the ban on hunting the creatures.
Grizzly bears are currently on the threatened species list in Montana, but the state has asked if these protections could be relaxed in Glacier National Park and areas surrounding it, where there are around 1,000 bears.
Bear populations have grown in recent decades, increasing around two to three per cent each year in northern Montana, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Relaxing hunting bans would allow the species to be dealt with more flexibility, to Montana Governor Greg Gianforte.
Managing the bear population is allowed in Alaska, where bears are killed by wildlife officials if there is a risk to human life.
“We’ve shown the ability to manage bears, protect their habitat and population numbers,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Hank Worsech told the Associated Press. “It’s time for us to have full authority for grizzly bears in Montana.”
Wildlife advocates have warned that loosening bear protections could see other species have their protections changed, like the gray wolf.
“We don’t believe that there should be hunting of these iconic, native carnivores,” said environmentalist John Horning from WildEarth Guardians. “I have no doubt the state would push it to the absolute limit so they could kill as many grizzlies as possible.”
In April 2021 a man was fatally attacked by a grizzly bear west of Yellowstone National Park, and in July 2021 a camper was ripped from her tent and mauled by a grizzly bear in Ovando, Montana. Attacks are still rare, since 2010, there have been around 30 injuries and three fatalities involving grizzly bears.
The National Park Service (NPS) offers advice on what to do if you see a grizzly bear in the wild. Hikers should carry a bell or make noise along the trail so they don’t startle a bear, but if you are confronted with one do not run states the NPS.
“Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears,” it advises. “If the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase ﬂeeing animals. Do not climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.”
If you are attacked by a brown or grizzly bear, leave your pack on and play dead. “Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks,” states the NPS.
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