National Geographic : 2016 May
Into the Backcountry 95 enough to view bitter disputes in which he and other managers are stuck between critics on both flanks as “interesting.” In the 1980s, Gunther said, “every adult female bear seemed crit- ical to the population. We were still at low population numbers.” Numbers were low because the grizzly population had crashed in the 1970s, after a change in management emphasis away from Albright’s yen for spectacle and toward greater attention to ecology. One sig- nal event influencing that change was the Leopold Report of 1963, a landmark in the evolution of ideas about Yellowstone’s purposes and policies, which came from a review committee chaired by Aldo Leopold’s son Starker, a respected biologist in his own right. The Leopold Report, formally titled “Wildlife Management in the National Parks,” wasn’t the first voice to suggest an ecological approach to parks management—that idea went back to a foresighted animal ecologist named Charles C. Adams in the 1920s—but as a special advisory paper commissioned by the secretary of the interior, Stewart Udall, it carried considerable force. The report stated that conditions in each national park should be “maintained, or where necessary recreated,” so as to represent “a vignette of primitive America,” thereby affirming, but without untangling, the paradox of the cultivated wild. That and other factors—notably the public reaction to two grizzly-caused human fatalities, seemingly unrelated but shockingly coincidental, in a single night in Glacier National Park in August 1967—led to the closure of all Yellowstone dumps. Shutting down that garbage buffet left the bears hungry, dazed by the sudden deprivation, confused, and reckless. They got into trouble, they suffered the consequences, their reproductive rate fell, and their population shrank drastically, to perhaps fewer than 140 throughout the ecosystem. During 1971 alone, more than 40 grizzlies were killed outside the park in various conflicts and mishaps, including bears that had been captured, marked, and released. The Yellowstone grizzly might have died out completely if the decline had continued for a decade. But in 1975 the grizzly bear in the lower 48 was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Hunting of grizzlies ceased, at least as a legal sporting activity in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosys- tem, and the park adopted new policies to protect people from bears and vice versa. “ We spent a lot of time managing individual bears, especially females, working really hard to try to keep them alive,” said Gunther, who came to Yellowstone in 1983. That meant forestalling bear-human conflict, by practical measures such as bear-proofing garbage cans and Dumpsters, patrolling campgrounds, educating visitors not to feed bears intentionally and not to allow them to pil- fer human foods. The point was to keep humans and grizzlies at a respectful distance from each other and to encourage bear reliance on the natural foods they’d begun rediscovering after the closure of the dumps. It worked. More females survived, they produced more cubs, “and the population has really turned around,” Gunther said. Grizzly numbers increased within the park, and their distributional Smith called my attention to the carnassials. ‘Those are shearing teeth,’ he said—wolves’ key teeth—edgy and powerful, for slicing meat, cracking bone.