Op-Ed by Maggie Nutter, President Marias River Livestock Association
Most people will get up this morning drink their coffee and head out the door. They will walk to their car and the thought of being mauled by a Grizzly bear will never enter their head. Mom’s will feed and dress their children and send them off to school or bus stop. They will not consider sending bear spray with them, but these people don’t live in the midst of the great success of grizzly bear recovery.
It is easy to say many people live with Grizzly bears in their environment and few actually get killed. That may be true but what is not considered in that statement is how the lives of these people changed when they have grizzlies in their farm yard, colony or town.
Janet Hawks says it so well, “I love the yarn about because of all that Fish Wildlife and Parks has done Choteau and the surrounding area walks hand and hand with the bear. We all know that is not true, but people know they will get no help from FWP so they don’t even call them anymore. I am sick to my stomach and my heart for those put in this situation. Unfortunately they are told they will just have to deal with it. Delisting will not solve the issue.”
And there we come to the silent but angry truth. NOT increased tolerance as the some staff of the FWP spouts but the quiet that comes with not being heard. The frustration of not knowing if you will be able to keep your family, property and livestock safe.
What are we truly asking for when we demand Grizzly bears be removed from the Endangered Species List? Even if delisted grizzly bears will not just go away, so what do we want? We want safety for our family and friends. We want to know they can go to do their ranch/farm work and not get eaten by a Grizzly bear. We want our kids to walk to school or go to play at a friends’ house and not have to worry about them meeting a Grizzly bear on the way to or from.
While we support Grizzly bear delisting, what is truly needed is strong management NOW to prevent human/bear or livestock/ bear conflicts, we also realize bears are here now. In the last 10 years Grizzly bears have continued to increase in population and spread farther from the core recovery area. There are now more bears in areas where people have never had to be concerned about running into one. They are along the Marias, Tiber/Lake Elwell, in the Sweetgrass Hills and thick as fleas in Valier up on the Rocky Mountain Front.
We do not want to read about some child being injured or killed but it is a real concern. In the last 4 years I have attended multiple community meeting where the citizens call on the FWP to be more proactive.
At a community meeting in Valier, MT on May 19, Gary Bertellotti, FWP Director for Region 4, was asked what they have changed in the last 3 year in response to peoples request for quicker response to calls and proactive management. Over 280 people waited to hear the answer, neither Bertellotti nor Mike Madel, FWP Bear Specialist, could name one thing they had changed or improved. The attitude is that no change is needed.
Change must come. Now is not the time to sit silent, it is the time to demand that FWP use all the management tools and methods stated in their own management plan. It is time to demand accountability and that FWP make human safety a priority.