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Did NPR go off the deep end over Yellowstone Park’s bears?

Photo: Dr. Christopher Servheen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

NPR is wondering out loud about an interview suggesting that climate change may be depleting the natural food supply for bears at Yellowstone National Park, causing them to attack and kill people.

Global warming is reducing the production of fish and pine nuts, thus prompting hungry bears to assault several campers last year. That was the implication of an NPR Weekend All Things Considered interview with the author of a Men’s Journal article on the subject.

The piece took huge heat from a representative of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who challenged many details in the article—among them how starved these bears really were, and the reasons for the decline of certain kinds of trout around the region.

“The complaint I have is NPR featured this story as if it were factually correct and you interviewed this guy as if he had knowledge about grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem,” wrote Chris Servheen. “Neither of those things is true. All of us look to NPR as a source of factual information. That was the most egregious thing I’ve ever heard on NPR.”

“This was a fascinating story but it needed more of the government’s perspective,” concluded NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. “NPR needs to be very careful when using an outside reporter’s story – and find different ways to vet it.”

“This incident also illustrates the inherent difficulty of tackling complicated, controversial subjects by interviewing outside reporters whose work NPR cannot vet or verify. NPR often interviews outside journalists, and usually is not a problem. But when a problem does arise like this one, listeners do not get the full story.”

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