Published March 5, 2016
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — The US Fish and Wildlife (FWS) has announced its proposed rule to strip Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from Yellowstone’s grizzly bears that will enable the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to open trophy hunts for the bear despite formal objections submitted to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell by some fifty federally recognized tribes and the Assembly of First Nations.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a source at Interior said the rule would be published in the Federal Register on March 7.
“This announcement exhibits the typical demeaning attitude of the colonizer towards our people and rights. It’s a 500-year tradition among them. Tribes have endured two centuries of deception and deceit when dealing with the US government, and this rule that will provide rich wasicus with the legal authority to trophy hunt our sacred relative, the grizzly bear, is a continuation of that pattern,” says Tom Poor Bear, Vice President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST).
FWS Director, Dan Ashe, describes the proposed grizzly delisting rule as “a historic success” and “one of America’s great conservation successes.” Ashe points to the “rebound” in the grizzly population from 136 in 1975 when the bear was listed under the ESA, to today’s estimate of 700.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe provided a counter to Ashe’s celebratory tone in one of the most strongly worded resolutions issued by any tribal nation opposing delisting. The 8-page resolution that details spiritual, scientific, political, and environmental objections brings perspective to the government’s position.
“At the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition it was estimated that 100,000 grizzly bears inhabited the lands of the tribal nations west of the Missouri River. FWS’s current population estimate of approximately 700 grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone is sufficient on its own to demonstrate that the grizzly bear is not a recovered species,” reads article thirty-two of the resolution.
Tribes have consistently raised the lack of genetic diversity and connectivity between the Yellowstone and Glacier “island populations.”
“Quite simply, this announcement ensures that the grizzly bear will never be a recovered species. This is all political smoke and mirrors,” insists David Bearshield, Chairman of GOAL, the tribal coalition that has galvanized opposition to delisting the Great Bear. “Tribal nations are the only hope for linkage zones between the two main grizzly populations. Any migration will cease as soon as the grizzly is trophy hunted,” he predicts.
When tribal leaders met with Director Ashe and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor in November, they petitioned for the grizzly to be returned to tribal lands where biologically suitable habitat exists.
“Director Ashe led us to believe that he would move forward on this proposal with tribes as true partners, not second-class passengers. There are tribes from the Blackfoot Confederacy in the north to the Hopi in the south that want to see the grizzly returned to their lands,” says Bearshield.
During the meeting, Bearshield said both Ashe and Connor also committed to fulfill federally mandated tribal consultation requirements, but they have not. “Shoshone-Bannock Vice Chairman LJ Tyler opened that meeting with a prayer in his language. That meant something to us, but clearly by this act of dishonor it meant nothing to them,” Bearshield concludes.
In FWS’s press release, Ashe appears to reduce the tribal consultation process required by Executive Orders and Congressional Acts to public comment: “We are look [sic] forward to hearing from the public about the proposal and consulting with Native American tribes.”
Tribal leaders have consistently denounced FWS’s approach to consultation. “The consultation process should be initiated at the beginning of any type of proposal or project that may impact and concern us as sovereign nations and treaty tribes,” explains Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Vice Chairman, LJ Tyler. “We don’t want to hear about the rule to delist the grizzly bear after the fact!”
Ashe told the Associated Press that “formal consultation is ongoing,” an assertion challenged by several tribal chairman and presidents, including Oglala President, John Yellow Bird Steele, and Zuni Pueblo Governor, Val Panteah. In a recent letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Hopi Chairman, Herman Honanie, confirmed, “Our formal request for consultation has been ignored.”
Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead, and Wyoming’s Congressional delegation have been outspoken advocates of delisting the grizzly bear. Led by Wyoming, the directors of the tri-state game agencies submitted a draft memorandum of agreement (MOA) to FWS Director Ashe proposing that Wyoming receive 58% of the trophy hunt, Montana 34% and Idaho 8%. The states are supposed to adopt rules on hunting quotas, but FWS says they are not mandatory.
“I told Ashe and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Connor to their faces that photographs of leering trophy hunters crouched over dead grizzly bears would define their legacy, one I doubt the President wants to be associated with. The most iconic being in Yellowstone killed, gutted, and skinned for a rug in the most iconic landscape in America, which happens to be a matrix of sacred sites,” reveals GOAL Co-Founder, Rain Bear Stands Last.
The MOA suggests that trophy hunting would be suspended if the Yellowstone grizzly population fell below 600 bears. However, federal and state government data compiled in 2015 indicates that the population may already be below that threshold after a record year of grizzly mortality. Wyoming has long advocated for a “population objective” of 500 grizzlies, and under the MOA it is possible that could occur in as little as three years.
“These so-called state game and fish agencies exist to serve a clientele that is 95% white, 95% male, and many of who kill for trophies. They are the vocal minority, and under the systems that exist through colonialism and patriarchy they have been able to dominate, lie and cheat their way into control. I say no more,” declares OST Vice President Poor Bear.
“We are the conscience of the land. We will not allow the very soul of the earth to be robbed to satisfy the political special interests of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Like the grizzly bear, we were here millennia before there were states. This is simply the continuation of Manifest Destiny,” Vice President Poor Bear continues.
All of the tribes arrayed in opposition to delisting question the “best available science” presented by FWS, and have petitioned FWS to release the taxpayer-funded raw data for independent scientific review. Most experts support the tribes’ position. In a 2015 master’s thesis, almost two-thirds of grizzly bear biologists canvased by Harmony Szarek opposed removing federal protections from the grizzly.
Ms. Szarek also found what the tribes have been insisting, that FWS’s decision has been politicized to accommodate special interests in the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. “Currently, there appears to be political pressure to delist this population segment; however, responses here indicate that a large majority of experts believe delisting would be an incorrect decision, or at the very least a violation of the precautionary principle,” she concluded.
“While this is good news for Donald Trump’s trophy hunter sons, it is a shameful day for Interior, selling out tribal rights to Wyoming, one of the most extreme right-wing state governments in the Union that carries the banner for multinational energy corporations,” adds Bear Stands Last.
Delisting the grizzly bear will relax restrictions on millions of acres of tribal ancestral homelands in Greater Yellowstone. “This is not just about the grizzly bear, it is about the land the grizzly walks upon. If the grizzly is delisted, you will witness a two million acre land grab by energy and mining companies, livestock interests, and timber operations,” cautions Vice President Poor Bear.
GOAL’s Co-founder highlights a disconnection in the bigger picture. “The rape and murder of Native women, the rape of the earth, and the killing of a sacred being many see as the physical embodiment of our Mother Earth are all connected,” says Bear Stands Last.
Vice President Poor Bear agrees. “We can sum this up in one word: genocide.”
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