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Science and Truth Missing from Yellowstone Grizzly Case

Grizzlies will have their day in court if neuroscience is included.

Charlie Russell
Source: Charlie Russell

This past August, attorneys gathered in court to argue whether the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s efforts to remove Endangered Species protection for Yellowstone Grizzly Bears and allowing hunting are legal. The presiding judge has delayed the ruling to allow for further study and deliberation. Science is foundational to the decision.[1]

There is no question that those advocating for the hunting ban are in the scientific right. Mountains of data support their assertions, but simple common sense, and the extensive experience of those who have lived it say it all. Charlie Russell lived his entire life among grizzlies. He writes: "Even though public opinion has changed, and even though what science knows has changed, official rhetoric has been very slow to keep up. Park and public land managers still villainize predators. Yet everything that is said about predator danger—that grizzlies are unpredictable, aggressive, and become more dangerous unless they are treated with hostility—is completely at odds with my experiences from seven decades of living with them up close, on a daily basis." [2, 3]

Here is a summary of the facts:

  • Prior to European settlement, Grizzlies roamed throughout North America. Now they live on 3% of these lands. Routine, mass killing by humans has left only a handful of Grizzlies.
  • Grizzlies are extremely vulnerable because their historical, evolutionary food sources have plummeted in quantity and quality. Human appropriation of foraging land has bankrupted the Grizzly food bank. Climate change adds to the decline in food quality and quantity.[4]

These bare, indisputable facts make it clear that hunting must be banned, permanently. But there’s even more vital, compelling, and disturbing, science that demands Grizzly protection.

C&C Images
Source: C&C Images

All of biomedical, pharmaceutical, and neuroscience research is based on the understanding that Grizzlies and other animals, including invertebrates, share with humans the same brain structures and processes that govern thinking, feeling, and consciousness. [5, 6] Science functions on a species common model of brain, mind, and behavior which means that what we know about ourselves can be applied to Grizzlies and vice versa with equal rigor (bidirectional inference). [7-9] This implies that similar to elephants who have been subjected to routine stalking, killing, loss of food and homeland, harassment, and other human violence, Grizzly minds, as well as their bodies, are at risk of extinction. The spiral into obliteration is accelerated because Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is now epidemic among African Elephants, passes from generation to generation. [8-10]

The science underlying these findings is not anecdotal. Measured by research dollars and numbers of publications, workers, and beneficiaries of biomedical research (anyone who receives medical care or medication), species-common scientific theory and data dwarf all other studies. The inclusion of this science of sentience is vital in the legal discussion because it gives its subjects, Grizzlies, a voice.

Charlie Russell
Source: Charlie Russell

Science dictates that Grizzlies require the same protection under the law afforded to our species. If science is to continue as the epistemic authority that informs policy and law, then all of science must be considered and weighed, otherwise it becomes arbitrary hearsay, and consequently, so does the law. While implications may be uncomfortable, unprofitable, and inconvenient to the status quo, what science reveals is a fact and reality.

A recent analysis of the Yellowstone Grizzly case asked: “What is different today from the past?” [4] I would suggest that the difference is that North Americans are tired of lies and hunger for truth and honesty. Let’s hope that our legal representatives feel the same.


[1] Brulliard, K. and N. Mott. 2018. Judge halts first grizzly hunts in decades two days before their start. The Washington Post.; August 31, 2018.

[2] Russell, C. 2003. Grizzly Heart. Vintage Canada.

[3] Bradshaw, G.A. 2017. Carnivore minds: Who these fearsome beings really are. Yale University Press.

[4] Willcox, L. 2018. "What's Changed?" Judge Christensen Probes Grizzly Bear Delisting. The Grizzly Times.; September 6, 2018.

[5] Low, P., Panksepp, J., Reiss, D., Edelman, D., Van Swinderen, B., & Koch, C. (2012, July). The Cambridge declaration on consciousness. In Francis Crick Memorial Conference, Cambridge, England.

[6] Northoff, G., & Panksepp, J. (2008). The trans-species concept of self and the subcortical–cortical midline system. Trends in cognitive sciences, 12(7), 259-264.

[7] Bradshaw, G.A., and R. M. Sapolsky. 2006. Mirror, mirror. American Scientist, 94(6), 487-489.

[8] Bradshaw, G.A. and B. L. Finlay. 2005. Natural symmetry. Nature, 435, 149.

[9] Bradshaw, G.A , Schore, A.N., Brown, J Poole, J. & Moss, C.J. 2005. Elephant breakdown. Nature, 433, 807.

[10] Bradshaw, G.A. 2009. Elephants on the edge: What animals teach us about humanity. New Haven: Yale University Press.