This is not the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
Nor is it just another bear tale. “Return Of The Grizzly: Sharing the Range with Yellowstone’s Top Predator” is more about Wyoming Game and Fish and the story of the 700 bears.
Pinedale writer Cat Urbigkit has taken on the nonfiction, but equally-riveting tale of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear’s bounce-back from closing-in-on-extinction to the bear being here, there and everywhere inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park and inside the boundaries of many of Wyoming’s communities.
Wyoming residents, and especially those in selected parts of the state such as Cody, know all too well many of the details of the grizzly saga.
This new book from New York’s Skyhorse Publishing, delves into the last 40-plus years of downs and ups of the area grizzly population and the adventures of negotiating bureaucracy.
Surely, like so many residents, when Urbigkit embarked on her writing she must have believed the grizzly had been successfully delisted from Endangered Species Act protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That occurred in mid-summer of 2017 and it seemed the decades of documented population growth, the massive, in-depth studies, and the cooperation of numerous state and federal agencies meant the announced return of management to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho marked a decisive chapter in conservation history.
However, about 14 months later, a federal judge in Missoula, Mont., overturned the entire process, returning the bear to ESA protection.
For those interested in the journey of the fascinating mammal, which seems to be one of the most popular in the United States, this narrative tracks more than 40 years of newsy developments, arguing, confusion, scientific analysis and contentiousness.
Those from Wyoming may wish to review all they read in newspapers, or they may be too close to the story and not want to relive the heartburn.
In the early 1970s, it was estimated the Yellowstone grizzly was reduced to a count of 136.
The fear of the grizzly being eradicated from the region led to creation of cooperating agencies to boost the population. Although an official count of 700 was given during the 2017 proceedings for delisting, most of those groups believe there are really 1,000 grizzlies in the area now.
What Urbigkit does not underplay is the danger inherent in having more grizzlies roaming the landscape. She documents the numerous human fatalities (2010 was a particularly bad year for attacks) and in great detail explains the difficulties sheep and cattle ranchers face as bears slaughter animals in their herds.
Given that she is from the Pinedale area it is understandable she dwells heavily on depredation in that area.
Also documented are a large number of captures of bears invading private property or neighborhoods.
One cannot read this volume without at least having the passing thought the bears are all over the place doing what they want to do and Wyoming Game and Fish spends half its working time fielding calls about the invasion of the grizzlies putting people at risk.
Then there are the groups that sue government agencies every time any new proposal is advanced, even if it has decades of scientific study behind it.
One of the most intriguing paragraphs in the book quotes The Natural Resources Defense Council as saying, “Certainly, we can all agree that the recovery of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region has been a tremendous success and has prevented this population from going extinct.”
It’s surprising as the Council is aligned with the other groups who oppose delisting. Indeed, the Council qualified its comment – which is pretty much what proponents of delisting argue. The Council also said it is too early to declare recovery victory.
When Urbigkit speaks of polarization between the pro- and anti-delisting sides it is easy to read how far apart they are.
Although Urbigkit probably felt safe tackling this topic when grizzlies were delisted from the ESA in 2017, that was hardly the end of the process.
With the September 2018 court ruling halting all action, that means “Return Of The Grizzly” can only have a vague ending.
And it is likely to take years for any type of definitive ending to be written.