Explorer Bears

Oct 15, 2021 | Grizzly Bear Resources

grizzly bear in a field with cows
Explorer grizzly bears, essential for connecting bear populations, are dispersing to the edge of their ecosystems due to climate change. They are being harassed and killed at an alarming record setting rate. The bears must be shown tolerance--especially by the Federal Wildlife Service--and given “room to roam” in their new habitats. If removal from the endangered species list is dependent upon connectivity, then killing explorer bears will forever keep grizzly populations separated and unrecovered.

What is an explorer bear? An explorer bear is a grizzly who travels between grizzly bear ecosystems or habitats suitable for supporting wild grizzlies. These are the bears who have the genetics and culture to achieve recovery.

Get involved and sign our Change.org Petition: Protect the Grizzly, Stop Killing & Harassing Explorer Bears

Ursa Moses

Is there some deep song
rising from the land
that makes this bear look
to a distance-shrouded mountain?

Some ancient music heard as well
by migratory birds,
a snowflake of pollen catching
an updraft, & those ancestors of ours

who left drought-stricken or
ice-frozen lands to seek
a new home beyond desert,
tundra, sea or imagination?

Without his drive to explore –
to be a vagabond with a vision
of what could be – he
& his kind are doomed.

As Ursa Moses crosses the Red Sea
of our intolerance & interstates,
does he hear the whispers
of this truth:

An island bear is a dead bear.
To survive you must roam.
And will we ever learn
to turn down the clatter of profit,

the rumble of false dominion,
the shrieking din of our fears
to heed these same whispers?
Shh … Listen.

–Marc Beaudin, Board Member

I was sadly shocked, if not surprised, at the unnecessary killing in May of a 447-pound male grizzly in the Big Snowy Mountains of Montana, a place I’ve been lucky to have spent months on a ranch where a friend runs bison. This bear was killed by the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, in consultation with Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, after they claimed the grizzly killed two cows. By law, final authority regarding grizzly bear management is up to the FWS. What went wrong here?

This young grizzly was one of the farthest ranging bears east of the Continental Divide, and was well on his way to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the American Prairie Reserve. To our thinking, that makes him a valuable individual, one capable of making the connection between habitats, an “explorer” grizzly, as Barrie Gilbert calls them.

This irreplaceable bear was killed according to obsolete 1986 IGBC Guidelines that the federal court in 2019 ordered revisited.

The importance of this sort of connectivity came up in the Ninth Circuit’s decision regarding the Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting:

“In its remand order, district Judge Christensen found important deficiencies in the FWS’ analysis: “The district court held the FWS acted contrary to the best available science when it determined that the Yellowstone grizzly bear was not threatened by a lack of genetic diversity, and that the translocation and connectivity assurances contained in the 2007 Rule were no longer necessary.”

The decision to kill this bear sets a terrible precedent. If delisting is dependent upon connectivity, then killing bears like this one will forever keep grizzly populations separated and unrecovered. We urge the FWS to reset grizzly management policy, revisit the 1986 Guidelines as directed in the remand order and establish a fresh direction for the new administration.

–Doug Peacock, Founder & Chairman, Save the Yellowstone Grizzly

I just returned from the Big Snowy Mountains in central Montana, the final resting place of a young male grizzly bear who had traveled God-only-knows-how-far from where he was born, probably in the Little Belt Mountains roughly 50 miles to the west. No grizzly has ever gotten so far east in recent times. The epic journey took this bear across high dry prairie to an Edenic bit of bear habitat. The draws and forest openings are overrun with serviceberry, chokecherry, hawthorn, and buffaloberry. The lower-elevation ridges and north slopes are covered with aspen groves supporting a lush undergrowth of cow-parsnip, angelica, and osmorhiza. The bear could have just as well died and gone to heaven.

Instead the bear went to heaven and then died. This young male grizzly found a couple of cow calves–bison calves in disguise–and, naturally enough, killed them. He was then killed by managers because he was “expendable.”

Europeans whose ancestors have lived around the Big Snowy Mountains for at most 150 years seem to consider intolerance a sanctified right–along with the translation of what would otherwise be bear food into vagarious profits derived from the sale of cow flesh. But, unlike Europeans, grizzlies were here probably 200-times longer–30,000 years–prior to being killed off by a handful of settlers with large-caliber firearms. The last of the big bears disappeared as recently as the 1920s. Unlike the pretenses maintained by Europeans with Native Peoples, no treaties were signed with grizzlies prior to genocide, so grizzlies and those who speak on their behalf have no treaty rights to invoke. But claims invoking compassion, empathy, and prior occupancy are unambiguous. Grizzly bears have the right to be in the Big Snowy Range…and Missouri breaks…and Little Missouri breaks…and Black Hills, and beyond.

–David Mattson, PhD, Grizzly bear biologist

Killing bears on the border of isolated populations eliminates or reduces dispersion and genetic exchanges that are so important in preventing inbreeding depression and local extinction. This impact was a major concern when the GYE grizzly bears were being considered for de-listing under the ESA. Adding to the current all-time record of human-caused bear mortality from poaching, defense of life and property and vandal killing, the proposed loss of federal protection would grease the path to population extinction.

Another serious but subtle impact is the reduction or elimination of behavioral traits that underlie exploration and related cultural innovation. This type of individual bear temperament is crucial to the eventual connection between isolated populations.

–Barrie K. Gilbert, PhD, Conservation Ecologist