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Record Grizzly Deaths Prompt Call for Updated Conflict Management

There were 65 reported grizzly bear deaths in 2018. (H. Michael Miley/Flickr)
There were 65 reported grizzly bear deaths in 2018. (H. Michael Miley/Flickr)
February 4, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – After a record number of grizzly bear deaths in 2018, groups are calling for an update to a decade-old report on conflict prevention.

Six conservation groups have sent a letter to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee's Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee.

They're urging members to develop new recommendations for avoiding conflict involving bears, people and livestock and also evaluate how well the 2009 report was implemented.

There were 65 known grizzly deaths in 2018 and almost 250 since 2015, with nearly all of them from human-related causes.

Bonnie Rice, senior representative with the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign, notes the 2009 report still can be a good resource.

"It did have a lot of good recommendations in it, but many of those have not been implemented, in terms of measures to prevent conflicts,” she points out. “And so, it's really past time to update that report and take another look at this, considering how many grizzly bears we're losing every year."

Rice emphasizes that the mortality count is just known deaths – many more go undocumented.

She adds that the committee should work to implement a new report with additional recommendations before this year's hunting season, when most deaths occur.

The letter says bear-management agencies should follow through with a 2009 report recommendation to create a database of bear deaths going back at least five years.

Conflict patterns with grizzlies have changed over the past decade. Many of the 2009 report's recommendations were for hunters.

The groups that authored this letter say more focus should be on reducing conflict between grizzlies and livestock managers, who see the species as a threat.

But Wendy Keefover, native carnivore protection manager for the Humane Society of the United States, says the bears are responsible for such a small fraction of depredations that the number is practically zero.

"With all native carnivores put together, plus domestic dogs, the total predation is minuscule, but the biggest problem that livestock growers are what we call maladies,” she explains. “So birthing problems, respiratory problems."

Keefover says these maladies cause about nine times more livestock deaths than all predators combined. She adds that even lightning strikes cause far more deaths than predators.

Keefover says there are examples of reduced conflicts, such as the Blackfoot Challenge where ranchers use electric fencing and other techniques and have reduced incidents by more than 70 percent.

"We know that we can coexist very well with grizzly bears,” she stresses. “It just takes some effort, and it's effort on our part. And if we don't do it, we risk losing grizzly bears forever. They're a conservation-reliant species."

The committee overseeing management of Yellowstone grizzlies meets in April.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT