U.S. and Canadian tribes will sign joint treaty aimed at protecting grizzly bears

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. AP

In a rare show of unity, tribal leaders from the United States and Canada plan to sign a joint treaty on Friday aimed at blocking the proposed hunting of grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Tribes are angry after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March proposed removing the grizzly bear from the federal endangered species list, which would allow the three states to manage the bears and allow hunting.

“There should be no doubt that delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly bear on ancestral tribal and treaty lands threatens irreparable harm to tribal rights if it is not challenged,” said Stanley Grier, chief of the Piikani Nation in Brocket, Alberta.

More than 50 federally recognized tribes have lobbied President Barack Obama to intervene. They’re backed by The Assembly of First Nations, a national advocacy organization representing the more than 900,000 First Nation citizens living in Canada.

Tribal officials said the new treaty will be only the third cross-border treaty between U.S. and Canadian tribes to be signed in more than 150 years. It will be called: “The Grizzly: A Treaty Of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration.”

The long battle pits tribes and environmental groups against ranchers and state officials who argue that there are too many bears in the Yellowstone region and they constitute a threat to public safety.

In March, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the recovery of the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone region “stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” with the population rising from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 or more today.

In Idaho, officials with the Department of Fish and Game say that removing the grizzly bear from the endangered species list is long overdue.

But tribal leaders have long argued that the grizzly bear is a sacred animal that deserves protection.

“Since time immemorial, the grizzly has been our ancestor, our relative,” Grier said. “The grizzly is part of us and we are part of the grizzly culturally, spiritually and ceremonially.”

Treaty signing ceremonies are planned Friday at the Council Chambers of the Piikani Nation and on Sunday at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The U.S. event is expected to include tribal representatives from the Crazy Dog Society; Standing Rock, N.D.; Six Nations; Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Shoshone Bannock Tribal Council, Eastern Shoshone Tribal Council, Gros Ventres, Crow Nation, Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes, Northern Cheyenne Nation, Colville Tribes, Pawnee Nation, Ute Mountain Tribe, Southern Ute Nation, Navajo Nation, Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, Hopi Tribe and others.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob