Interview of Louisa Wilcox ― Resistance Radio

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(Sound of grizzly bears)

Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Louisa Willcox.

Working for Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Louisa has advocated for grizzly bear preservation for over 30 years. She specializes in developing comprehensive strategies that succeed because they work on multiple scales using various approaches, including grassroots organizing and outreach, education, media and communication, policy analysis, lobbying, coalition development, and public protest. She and a handful of others have, or had actually, prevented Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting for over two decades, and this is what we’re going to talk about today. Louisa has a BA from Williams College and a Masters of Forest Policy from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In 2014, she was given a lifetime achievement award from Yale. 

So first off, thank you for your work, and secondly, thank you for being on the program.

LW: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.

DJ: So before we talk about delisting, let’s … we talked about grizzly bears before, but let’s do a short version of how amazing grizzly bears are, and then move from there to what’s going on right now. So first off, what was grizzly bear range and population – who are grizzly bears, what was their range and population prior to conquest, and sort of summarize the last several hundred years and bring us up to like two years ago, before we move forward.

LW: Okay. So, before European settlers arrived on the continent, we had something in the realm of maybe 70,000 grizzly bears, from the Mississippi River west to the California coast, and from Canada down to Mexico; in the mountain country, not in the deserts. And today we only have three percent of what was here. 97% of the grizzly bears that were here were lost, were killed, or their habitat was destroyed and developed. So, those two factors. It didn’t take Europeans very long, in fact about 100 years, to smack down the grizzly bear populations across the country. They were well-armed settlers with a bad attitude when it came to predators of all stripes, and their mission was to dominate and multiply, and grizzly bears were in the way.

Under the umbrella of manifest destiny, slaughter and genocide of native peoples were acceptable, and happened in very very short order. Grizzly bears are now relegated to five tiny – well, three tiny ecosystems in Washington State, northern Idaho and northwest Montana, and their strongholds are only in two places. All of these are isolated populations, by the way.

The strongholds are in Yellowstone, with maybe 700 bears, and in the Glacier ecosystem abutting Canada with maybe 900 grizzly bears. Grizzly bears were listed in 1975 under the Endangered Species Act. Without these protections, they would have gone the way of the rest of the 97% that’s been extirpated. But grizzly bears were rescued from the brink of extinction by virtue of the precautionary principle codified in the law, the requirement that decisions made by the federal government be based on science, and science alone, and it states that the grizzly bear is a very wilderness-dependent species. It needs large tracts of untamed country. So we were able to protect ecosystems and stabilize the numbers to 1800 where they are today. But they’re still isolated, still vulnerable, and now we have the threat of climate change, which is wreaking havoc on critical bear foods. As well as more and more people moving into these regions in northern Montana and the Great Yellowstone ecosystem, so a lot more development, and further isolating and putting a noose around these isolated ecosystems, potentially permanently.

So that’s where we were this week, which is the last week of July, 2017. We’ve seen the federal government again delist grizzly bears, remove their Endangered Species protection, and this is going to result in easier killing, authorized by the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, as well as a grizzly bear trophy hunt, which hasn’t happened in over 40 years.

And this is really premature. The population in Yellowstone is declining, really pretty severely over the last few years, due to livestock conflicts and hunter conflicts, which is a direct result of climate change, and I’ll explain that a little bit more in a second.

And we have, on the horizon, more and more foods being lost, potentially berries, the elk herd is in decline in the Great Yellowstone ecosystem, and it’s just a terrible time to be rolling the dice on this remnant population.

DJ: So, before we talk more about that, can you talk a little bit more about the habitat that grizzly bears prefer? Because my understanding is that sure, there are mountains, but they were in the Great Plains as well. And they were also in Santa Barbara, California. So what do they like, what do they eat, and before we talk about the decline of their foods; what are their favorite foods? So just tell me a little bit more about their preferences.

LW: Sure. Grizzly bears will eat, and do eat, the same foods that we do. They love salmon in the northwest, in California. They’re fond of bison, as we are, and were. Native people certainly relied on them, you’ve got these high concentrations of areas where people were, in the Great Plains, along the rivers, and where grizzly bears were, doing the same thing, trying to take down bison. And in the southwest you had bears doing what people were doing, which was eating acorns. And manzanita berries, and piñon pine seeds. So pretty much anywhere there was abundant human food, there were grizzly bears in the mountain country and the plains.

The three big economies were the salmon economy in the northwest into Idaho and down into California, the acorn economy, if you will, and the bison economy in the Great Plains.

DJ: I just interviewed Stephany Seay, and I’ve interviewed her before too. Are grizzly bears capable of taking down a full grown bison or do they have to take on a weak one?

LW: I believe they’re usually looking for an adult bison in a very compromised situation. Stuck in the mud, or snow, or something. But they can and do depredate on bison, they’re capable of it. They particularly rely, though, on other predators to do the work. For example, in Yellowstone, where wolves have been restored, you’ve got instances where wolves will take down a bison and bears will then take it over.

And bison really mattered to grizzly bears throughout the plains, and Yellowstone is the last place where you have grizzly bears – the last place in the world where you have grizzly bears and bison interacting in anything like a natural way that serves the ecosystem purposes, or the ecosystem roles that they played for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

So you’ve got a unique situation in Yellowstone. But we can’t get away from our killing habit. We’re killing bison and we’re killing bears. It’s excessive, it’s disgusting, and it’s driven by this same old philosophy of power and domination over nature.

DJ: Right. Right.

And, I don’t mean to switch away from that. I mean, you know that that’s really – that’s something I really focus on. But I also want to mention that we don’t think about it so much, but don’t bears eat just boatloads of grass and insects too? So they’re not just going for these big targets, but they eat lots of moths.

LW: Yeah. So, when you think about it, a grizzly bear wakes up in the spring, March or April around here, and it’s on a race for calories so they can fatten up enough to go into a den in the winter and not eat, drink, defecate, and also the females produce young in the dead of winter. So they have to – grizzly bears really have to be beefed up by the time they go into the den, and in order to do that, they’re looking for every caloric trick in the book. They eat ants, they eat hornets, they dig roots, they eat sedges and grasses and forbs and dig up pond weed. In Yellowstone Park and ephemeral lakes, dried up, they dig down into the rhizomes of these pond weeds. They are on the track of food. Grizzly bears are eating machines and they have to feed hugely to survive the winter.

DJ: One last thing before we move on to the current delisting. I just want to be explicit that when we talk about pre-conquest, what this says, these populations pre-conquest, what that says is that humans and grizzly bears are capable of co-existing, because they did for thousands and thousands of years.

LW: Absolutely. One of the most common stories about grizzly bears, not just in the United States, but circumpolar; so Russia, Canada, Sweden and stuff. Was that the grizzly bear was our kin. It was related to us. It was our mentor, it was our teacher. And we very much had perfected the art of coexisting with these animals. And there were only a handful of tribes that hunted grizzly bears. Hunting black bears was reasonably common but hunting grizzly bears was not, because these were relatives. They literally were our relatives. So we coexisted with them, we competed in berry patches with them, and probably foraged pine seeds together and buffalo, and we bumped into these bears everywhere, and pretty much made peace. We just decided when Europeans arrived with their attitudes and their guns, that we couldn’t accept these wild animals anymore and we slaughtered them.

DJ: I remember reading an account of northern California that, prior to conquest, if you were near a river you would probably see a grizzly bear every fifteen minutes. Which is about as often as you see a mosquito these days here. So seeing a grizzly bear would be like Junior says “I saw a grizzly bear” and mother says “Oh, that’s nice, dear. Did you see the sun, too?”

LW: Right, right. It would have been an amazing sight to have been in any of these – like, along a salmon stream in California, with grizzly bears, and people – and high densities of people too. And high densities of grizzly bears. What a magical time that must have been.

So we’ve had this relationship with bears, and bears have taught us a huge amount, about how to nurture young. I mean, there is no more fierce protector of young than a mother grizzly bear. I mean, they can be trouble to people who bump into them with their cubs, but they’re protecting their young. So they’ve taught us a lot, and given us medicine. And they’re still doing that. You know, if you go into Yellowstone Park right now – and this happened, I was just driving through last week, through Hayden Valley in the heart of the park, and there was a grizzly bear. And there was an unbelievable traffic jam. And there were families out of their cars and car doors opened and the sound of kids bubbling over, and huge lenses on cameras taking pictures.

And they’re after, they’re still after the medicine of the grizzly bear. I mean, these remnant populations that remind us what the wilderness was in this country, and now only exists in places like national parks. They’re still giving us so much joy and replenishing our spirits. Not to mention the fact that wild grizzly bears and wolves and bison are the chief economic draw, really the backbone of the economy in the Great Yellowstone system, as in Glacier, the natural beauty. It’s nature. All of these counties are really dependent on both tourism and people who retire or move here because of the wildlife, and because of the rivers and mountains and incredible wild places there are still to roam in.

DJ: So let’s talk about the delisting. Can you give us a brief history on who pushed it, who is pushing it, how long they’ve been pushing it, why they’re pushing it, and how they succeeded? And also oppositions against it. We’ll get to efforts to oppose it afterwards.

LW: The efforts to delist grizzly bears in Yellowstone, to remove their Endangered Species protection, started in about 1992, led by the State of Wyoming, which has the lion’s share of the grizzly bears. And the State of Wyoming wanted to remove these protections at the behest of basically three communities. Hunters, which are their client groups, hunting licenses pay the lion’s share of the budget for the state wildlife agencies, including in Wyoming, so hunters, the agricultural community, ranchers, and energy and development interests. They wanted to basically make it easier to develop habitat by removing protections, they wanted to make it easier to kill bears with no penalty or legal consequence, so we’ve got an issue with big game hunters running into grizzly bears over carcasses, facing the penalties of the Endangered Species Act, which are fairly stiff. The hunters didn’t like this, so the hunters want to get rid of them.

And you’ve got a market for trophy hunting grizzly bears, where people again want to basically take grizzly bears for trophies. Nobody really eats bear meat. Most of the trophy hunting that is occurring in British Columbia and Alaska is all essentially ego gratification. One could say, sort of, men protecting their penis size through the killing of large carnivores. That’s really what this is about. It’s about state control over these animals, working at the behest of various hunters and development interests.

And so what’s going to happen – so this week, which is the last week of July, 2017, the federal protection has been removed. The announcement was made last month and it just actually happened this week. And what we’re going to see is more killing, easier killing with no adverse consequences, of grizzly bears, authorized by the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and we’re going to see grizzly bear trophy hunting. Maybe not this fall, we have not heard yet when it’s going to be planned, but I would assume that either the State of Montana or Wyoming will move on this by next spring. It’s being opposed by a number of different interests, conservation interests as well as Native American interests, but those are the powers behind the delisting. And in this case, the federal government has authority under the Fish and Wildlife Service over the management of grizzly bears, the authority over the last 40 years – the federal government was in on the fix. The federal government was into and promoting delisting as well. And so the federal government just made this announcement.

DJ: So is this a done deal? That there is no remedy at this point?

LW: It’s a done deal. Bears have been delisted. The only thing that can be done, and is being done now, is to sue the federal government, as was done ten years ago, when the federal government had tried earlier to delist grizzly bears. They were taken to court and EarthJustice won on behalf of I think 11 conservation groups. They won at the federal district court and an appeals court, to force the relisting of grizzly bears based on habitat threat and climate change. The climate change was allowing the whitebark pine, basically promoting conditions where mountain pine beetles, an indigenous beetle, could basically survive in higher elevation areas where whitebark pine is, which produces a high, high-fat seed that grizzly bears love, and so do people. And we just lost about 85% of our whitebark pine relative to an unprecedented, climate-driven, mountain pine beetle epidemic. And so that was why grizzly bears were relisted, because this was underway, this epidemic, the whitebark pine was crashing, and we were able to convince several courts, or the lawyers were, that there were still significant threats on the horizon, and currently facing grizzly bears, and they were put back on the list.

Now the federal government basically tried to paper this over, saying the loss of whitebark pine really doesn’t matter because grizzly bears eat hundreds of foods, and that’s true. But it obviates the point that there are four key foods that are high enough in calories to really drive the health of this population. Whitebark pine, army cutworm moths, cutthroat trout, and ungulates in the form of elk and bison.

DJ: This is also very clearly just a death by a thousand cuts. When people complain about, for example, bears going to a dump, it’s like – I have no doubt that if there were still salmon in the rivers, the bears would not go to the dump, because they would rather eat salmon than somebody’s leftover macaroni and cheese. But what are they going to so? I mean, I would go to a dump too, if they took away all my primary food sources.

So the point is, this argument that “Oh, that won’t hurt them because the other things will make it up” is flawed because the other things are crashing too in many cases.

LW: Right. Or if they’re not crashing, as in the case of army cutworm moths, they will crash, because all of the climate models show that this army cutworm moth, that relies upon alpine flowers for sustenance, the army cutworm moth habitat is going to disappear with climate change. 90% or more will be lost. And the climate models are really consistent with each other.

So, multiple foods are crashing. This is not the time to be rolling the dice and trophy hunting bears on top of already excessive methods of killing.

I should back up and say one thing. The grizzly bear has the lowest reproductive rate of any mammal in North America. A grizzly bear female doesn’t produce cubs until she’s about five. Litters are very small, like one to three maybe in a litter, and they are produced every three years. And so a female, in Yellowstone – they live about 20 years or so in the wild – has a hard time replacing herself in the population in her lifetime. So you can’t just go mow down these animals willy nilly, with such low reproductive rates. We’ve seen what happens when you mow down animals. We extirpated them once very very quickly, and we could do it again. We certainly have the firepower.

DJ: So just to be clear: A mother has a baby in, what, January or December? Whatever. And then she comes out with that baby in this year, and then she stays with the baby all through 2017, and then does the baby sleep with her through that next winter?

LW: Yes.

DJ: And so when the baby is a yearling, he’s still with her, and then –

LW: Yes. You can have bears who are two years old still with Mom, that’s really common. Even three is not unheard of. They’re hanging around Mom, and then when she goes back into estrous in the early summer and breeds again, she’ll kick the cubs off.

DJ: And the cubs are going to be – a cub born this year, that would be getting kicked away in 2019 or 2020?

LW. Yeah. They’re a long time learning from Mom how to make a living in the world. And sometimes you see a family group and the cubs are so big you can’t tell them from the mom. You can tell them by their behavior, but you can’t tell them by the size. They all look like a little troupe of bears running around.

DJ: I don’t know if grizzly bears do this, but something I’ve seen here that just delights me no end, and I’ve seen this a ton of times, is the mother will eat something, and then she will call the baby over and breathe into the baby’s mouth. And that’s how she’s telling the baby “This is okay to eat.”

LW: Right.

DJ: I love seeing that.

LW: Yeah. And also you see the cubs adopting the same techniques as the mom, of excavating a certain food. I mean like you really see this on salmon streams in Alaska, where you’ve got the mom who sort of snorkels in for the salmon, and then the cubs learn the snorkeling technique, and the mom, who’s a diver – and you see all these different sort of strategies replicated in subsequent generations of bears, which is really cool.

DJ: So let’s talk a little bit about who is opposing these – who has opposed this most recent delisting and what is the opposition currently doing?

LW: A variety of conservation groups have assiduously opposed delisting. Some independent scientists have also, including my husband, Dr. David Mattson, who used to be on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team here in Yellowstone. A number of other scientists they’ve included have opposed. And also we’ve seen this unprecedented coalition of Indians, of tribes opposing grizzly bear delisting. 126 tribes have signed a treaty over the last year, basically to commit to the future of grizzly bears, and more grizzly bears in more places, including on Indian land. They’re very opposed to the idea of trophy hunting because for them this is like killing their relatives and putting their heads on the wall.

So at the moment, the tribes are – everybody’s lawyering up. The reservation groups have their attorneys, the tribes have their attorneys, and everybody’s heading into court at the soonest date possible, to try to reverse this decision in federal district court.

DJ: In the meantime, are there timber sales, or natural gas exploration happening – well, I guess it’s just this week. So are there – will they be able to get an injunction, do you think? Or do you think that terrible things will happen before they go to court?

LW: The tribal attorneys and the conservation groups’ attorneys are going for a preliminary injunction. They’re going to try to stop this trophy hunt that’s being planned. And they’re going to move as quickly as possible, but the courts are overloaded so it’s a little bit unclear. I think the first big impact we’re going to see is the states have been getting louder and louder requests from irritated ranchers, because grizzly bears are turning to livestock, to cows, to replace the loss of the whitebark pine and cutthroat trout. They’re actually turning more to meat, turning more to cows, and the ranchers are sick of this in places like the upper Green River area in Wyoming, and want more grizzly bears killed. And that’s the most likely immediate impact, is that at the behest of ranchers and agricultural interests, we’re going to see more grizzly bears gunned down. And that can have an immediate bad impact adding to the population decline that’s already occurring.

DJ: One question you brought up a minute ago. You talked about the whitebark pine collapse. You talked about that in the past tense. Is it continuing to collapse? Is it getting worse and worse?

LW: The whitebark pine is continuing to die. Nobody knows actually at what rate. They’re not looking at that problem ecosystem-wide, so the actual figures are unclear. But below whitebark pine, which is the highest elevation pine that we have in this ecosystem, you have lodgepole pine, which co-evolved with these mountain pine beetles. And sometimes the beetle went, sometimes the tree went, but you’ve got an indigenous – you’ve got a built up reservoir of beetles, so they’re going to continue to send beetles up higher elevations. So the problem is not going to be worked out. You’re probably not going to get to a steady state.

Adding to the problem of whitebark pine and mountain pine beetles is a disease that whitebark pine gets, called white pine blister rust. It’s an invasive, exotic fungus that was introduced by logging companies in Canada. So that disease is also taking trees out. They’re sitting ducks. Essentially we’ve lost this huge, critical part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in the blink of an eye, in about a decade. And it’s not coming back. The climate conditions are not going to be suitable for a lot of whitebark pine to regrow. Basically whitebark pines are expected to march off the tops of the mountains in the Greater Yellowstone system anyway. This tree’s a goner. In fact, one of my last projects I worked on for the Natural Resources Defense Council was to try to get whitebark pine listed under the Endangered Species Act. And the Fish and Wildlife Service actually agreed with us that indeed this tree was endangered, but it was precluded by other priorities for the Fish and Wildlife Service, so it wouldn’t give it protection. But they agreed with us on the science, that this tree is really super in trouble.

DJ: So, sorry to grasp at straws here, but are there any predators who eat the beetles, who might help a little bit?

LW: Well, I mean certainly woodpeckers and stuff. These beetles lay their eggs in the tree, and so you do have a certain amount of depredation by woodpeckers and the like, but it’s not going to – they’re not going to make a difference.

DJ: Right. Well, nonetheless, I will send out prayers for lots of woodpeckers.

LW: Yes, absolutely. And cold winters. We’re just not getting – beetles cannot survive sustained cold periods of, say, minus 30 to 40 that we used to get, for like ten days straight. They can’t survive, even protected in the cambium, even with the antifreeze that they put out to protect themselves. They simply can’t survive it. But we’re not getting these kind of winters. If we got a really big cold spell it would knock the beetles down for awhile.

DJ: Great. I will put that on the list too.

So tell me more about this coalition of indigenous nations. You said the word “unprecedented” and I believe you said 120 or 112?

LW: 126 so far and still counting. There’s starting to be opposition led by people in the northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, which used to use Yellowstone quite a bit, travel through there, hunt in there. And they were upset because the federal government hadn’t talked to them about the fact that they were planning to remove protections and the grizzly bears would be hunted. So they were upset and began to send the word out, and none of the other tribes were really dialed into this issue, and the more the tribes heard about it the more angry they became. And the federal government simply blew them off. Assiduously blew them off for the last three-plus years. And the tribal people wouldn’t shut up, and have been going around and organizing, essentially classic organizing and outreach to other tribes, and now you’ve got tribes from Canada. The Piikani, who are part of the Blackfoot Confederacy both in the U.S. and Canada, are opposed, and down to the Mexican border, you’ve got the Hopi and the Navajo and Apache in the southwest. So all these tribes are rallying around the grizzly bear. Not just in Yellowstone, but everywhere. There are a number of tribes including the northern Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Sioux, that have a lot of grizzly bear habitat, where they had grizzly bears, and they still have suitable habitat. So the tribes want to see more bears in more places, including on tribal land. And they want a role in their management, and that’s what they’re pushing for.

DJ: Okay. So they reproduce slowly, and let’s pretend that this delisting problem went away, and let’s pretend that – here’s the question. Because they reproduce slowly, does that mean that they expand their range very slowly too? Like, wolves – there are wolves down in California now. That makes me very very happy. How long would it take if we left them alone for bears to re-inhabit California? Or to re-inhabit even the Kootenai territory?

LW: Well, I guess you could answer that question this way, that grizzly bears do move into new range very slowly. And it’s really driven by the mother and her daughter. So the daughter grizzly bear will set up her home range near Mom, in Mom’s home range or next to it. So that’s how you expand the grizzly bear population. These animals don’t move like wolves do, or like mountain lions do, who can cover hundreds of miles relatively quickly. Grizzly bears do not do that. But, these isolated populations I mentioned in Greater Yellowstone, and also Glacier has an isolated population. Grizzly bears have been moving west from Yellowstone and north from Yellowstone as well as south from Glacier, and are tantalizingly close to reconnecting. This is just with 40 years worth of protection. So there was just a newspaper article last week about grizzly bears showing up in one of these outlying Yellowstone ranges called the Big Belt, which is directly between Yellowstone and Glacier. They’re doing the connectivity thing. They are moving into suitable habitat just as scientists predicted that they could. They’ve been doing it very very slowly, it’s taken 40 years to get this close. But you can reverse that by starting a hunt, which would result, which will result in killing grizzlies on the periphery just as they’re about to connect. So it’s possible to see grizzly bears recolonize, say, for example, central Idaho. The River of No Return, Salmon and Selway country. They could get there on their own. They’re starting to do it now. They’re getting in from Glacier and the very northern end of the Selway-Bitterroot system, and they’re almost at the edge of it from the east side, from Yellowstone. So bears can do this if we let them. And they’re good about investigating new foods and new opportunities. It just takes them awhile, and they need full protection of the law. You just can’t be going in and killing these animals willy-nilly.

DJ: So what is a typical range for a mother bear?

LW: 200 to 400 square miles. It’s big! In Yellowstone. A grizzly bear’s home range very much depends on how rich the food source is. So in Katmai Park in Alaska, where the bears are eating salmon, grizzly bears can make a living on just a few square miles of rich berry-salmon habitat. But because bears are spread out here in Yellowstone, because the food sources are, their home ranges are much much bigger.

DJ: So when you say that the daughter sets up nearby the mother, that could be – you’re not meaning she sets up 50 yards away … she could be five miles? How far away would she set up, potentially?

LW: Yeah, maybe a few miles. It depends on the food sources the daughter has available to herself, too. They’re within, in their vernacular, spitting distance of each other. They’re aware of where each other is.

DJ: The reason I was asking that is if we figure three years for the baby to grow up a little bit, so you’d be – they could move – if they were a healthy population, we might be able to presume five miles every five years? So maybe a mile a year they could expand? Does that sound ballpark?

LW: I’m not sure I really know the answer to that. Cubs have a high rate of mortality. When they come out of the den, they’re 20-25 pounds. And Mom has to make sure they can swim the river. Sometimes they drown. Cubs get eaten by male bears. Infanticide is known and documented in grizzly bear populations. There’s lots of ways of cubs dying, and roughly 50% mortality you can estimate in the cub population, so it depends on – you have to grow those cubs, you have to have them survive, and you have to have them move.

They’ve expanded about 50 miles in Yellowstone to the west, on the very far end of the Centennial Range now, so 50 miles in 40 years. But it depends on the quality of the habitat they’re moving from and into.

DJ: Can you tell me again the total population of grizzly bears in the United States?

LW: There’s about 1800 grizzly bears now, centered around Yellowstone with about 700, and Glacier with maybe 900, and northwest Montana, counting that population, so for populations in North Idaho, they have maybe 30 bears each. And then in the North Cascades there’s a tiny, tiny remnant grizzly bear population in Washington State, abutting the British Columbia border, and they haven’t even seen those bears in years, but they estimate that there’s maybe five or so.

DJ: So this is one of the things that kills me about all this. I wrote about this in a book on zoos years ago, and how terrible zoos are. That they kill the mother and then put her babies in the San Francisco Zoo because she ate some corn in a rancher’s barn. Seriously, that’s it. I did the math, and they ate a bag of corn. I can buy a bag of corn at the feed store for like $15. And even if we expand this to killing a cow, it is so absurd and obscene to me, that you’re going to kill a creature when there’s fewer than 2000 of them, or 3000 of them; you’re going to kill one of those because it killed a cow? Of whom there are, I dunno, a billion? I don’t know how many cows there are, but a lot. And isn’t even worth that much. Never mind the fact that the cow was probably on public land anyway.

LW: Right. There are about 400,000 cows in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. That’s a lot of cows. And the value of a reproducing female in the wild is inestimable. I mean, when you figure in all the strikes against these grizzly bears and against growing up, a female who is not only able to reproduce and replace herself in the population, is inestimably important. And to let a grizzly bear die, or to kill because it invaded somebody’s corn or ate a cow – really, we’ve got our priority backwards.

DJ: It just has always seemed to me that if there are only a couple thousand of these, then you’d certainly cut them some slack. I mean, if there were a million grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park, I mean forget the fact that there couldn’t be because of carrying capacity, and then one killed one of these 400,000 cows, then we could have a discussion about this. But it’s absurd to have a creature with a low reproductive rate – I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. It makes me so angry. At the very least, just pay for the damned cow and be done with it. You were going to sell the cow to be killed anyway, so what do you care how you get the money? It’s ridiculous.

I’m wondering about that because of the whole thing with wolves where they’ll pay double value for a wolf kill if a wolf kills a cow, on public lands, no less – they will pay double the value. If I was a rancher, I would be praying for the wolves to kill my cows so that I can make more money.

LW: That may be happening now in Wyoming. Same thing is true for grizzly bears. There’s a really high value that the state pays out when grizzly bears eat cows and stuff. And it appears that, at least in the upper Green River area that I mentioned earlier, that ranchers are basically letting their sick calves die so that they can get reimbursement. It’s easier for them, rather than doctoring their calves, to just let them die and then they get reimbursed. And that’ll continue, the payment claims.

It’s truly outrageous. Just for perspective, about 1800 bears in five populations – the scientific community basically says “it’s not recovered.” Recovery really does look like 2000, maybe 5000 grizzly bears. Some scientists actually say more. And the only way you can get to that is through connecting Yellowstone, which has been isolated for over 100 years, to other grizzly bear populations. It’s not recovered, and to give perspective on the 1800 in a different way, there are, in Romania, about 6000 brown bears, which are grizzly bears. Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and last fall, in 2016, they stopped trophy hunting of grizzly bears at 6000 bears. They’re mostly that population centered around the Carpathian Mountains, which is about the size of Greater Yellowstone.

So, wait a minute! If a poor country like Romania can, without complaining, can support 6000 bears and then stop trophy hunting so they can potentially even grow their population further, then what is the matter with us, in the United States? That we can’t sort of, you know, be man enough, or brave enough, to support more grizzly bears in more places?

DJ: So … what is wrong with us?

LW: We’re selfish, we’re violent, and we’re not patient. I mean, we can learn, and plenty of people do learn, how to live with grizzly bears, people who are ranchers. There are many ranchers, actually, in Yellowstone and outside Glacier Park along the Rocky Mountain Front, who are doing just fine with grizzly bears. They don’t necessarily want a lot of press for it, because the stock growers would chew them out, but they actually are coexisting.

But there are many who don’t want to. And it takes just a few really aggressive thugs to reverse the hard-fought recovery that’s taken us 40 years to accomplish. I think we are still very much, as a culture, oriented towards power and domination over nature. Despite the fact that, I think, culturally we have second thoughts, which meant that we passed the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled species. Despite the fact that we passed the Wilderness Act to protect the last remaining wilderness. We’re kind of schizophrenic at this point. We recognize we may have gone too far, and yet the thugs are in charge of government now. Certainly the Trump administration has put into place leaders in Interior, our former congressman Ryan Zinke from Montana, who is a trophy hunter himself, big game hunter, and adamantly supports hunting grizzly bears. So the thugs are in charge now.

DJ: I want to go back to the corn. We have just a couple of minutes left. I want to go back to the corn for a second, and just think about – I mentioned before we turned this on, and long-time listeners know that I see black bears almost every day here. I see a mother and a baby, just every day in the summer. It delights me and it makes my life better.

And this is not without cost. Last year there was a mother and two babies I think, and one of the babies decided it was fun to chew on tires. So I had to replace my tires on my truck three – I had to replace three different tires, three different times. Or a total of three tires.

LW: (laughing) Wow!

DJ: And the first time was like “Oh, that’s so cute, that’s a nice price,” and the second time I’m like “Oh, you stupid bear!”

And the third time, I put some nail strips around the truck. The point is – and my mom, the frames around her doors have been chewed up by the bears. And the point is I don’t care. That’s the price you pay for living in their home. And I would think that losing a bag of corn, or losing a cow, or losing some chickens, or whatever it is – I mean, that is your sacrifice to the grizzly god, you know? And my tires last year were my sacrifice to the black bear god. This is the price you pay for living in their home. This is my rent, that’s what I’m trying to say. This is my rent.

LW: Similarly, we lived a mile from the wilderness north of Yellowstone Park, and we have goats. And several years ago, a mountain lion killed two of our goats. We actually weren’t at home. My husband was studying mountain lions, we were gone, and the housesitter said “What do I do, do I call the State?” It’s like “No. Our goats are lion food now. That’s it. We’re not going to ask the State to trap them, or kill them, or anything.”

It is the price we pay, or should pay, for living in some of the last habitat for these carnivores, who really don’t have a lot of places to go, as we cram more and more people into this country. We’re sitting on the last refuges, so the least we can do is afford some losses in terms of animals that we grow, or vegetables that we try to grow, if they get into our gardens and stuff.

DJ: So, last question. This is a temporary done deal, at least, but what can people do to support the efforts to relist?

LW: Right now it would be support the attorneys. EarthJustice, WildEarth Guardians, the attorneys for conservation groups, the attorneys for the tribes, who are being represented by Fredericks Peebles & Morgan, a law firm out of Denver. I’ll put something on my website with contact info. And support the Endangered Species Act. Right now the Trump administration and the Department of the Interior are trying to gut the Endangered Species Act, and Congress is sharpening its knives. The point is that the Endangered Species Act works. And 90% of those species that are listed are still with us because of this protection. And if that goes away, we will further extirpate species throughout this country.

And we don’t have to, and we shouldn’t. I mean, these are other beings, these are part of creation. And we as a people need to respect the rights of other things to live. Large mammals and tiny little frogs, and plants. Respect the rights of these other species to coexist. To live on the last places where they do.

DJ: So the very last thing is, what is your website for people to go to?

LW: And I’ve just gone through a revamp of the site, so there’s a lot of info up there now. I mean, there was before too, but.

DJ: Well, thank you so much for your work, and thank you for being on the program. And I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Louisa Willcox, this is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio, on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on October 22nd — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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