SAVING THE GRIZZLY BEAR
Traditional Blackfeet Indians believed the grizzly bear to be our closest animal relative. The great bear — known as Old Grandfather, Old Honey Paws, or Crooked Tail — wasn’t feared or considered a threat; in fact, grizzlies were revered as healers and were the most esteemed of all animals. Boasting tremendous size and physical strength, this solitary bear had few enemies. Yet today, grizzlies occupy less than 2 percent of their original range. Human expansion westward has resulted in a mass killoff of the bears both for profit and from fear. And while the bears are mostly protected where they still exist in the lower 48 states, they’re still hunted for sport in Alaska and parts of Canada.
Despite the grizzly’s mythic status, federal predator control began in 1915, when grizzly numbers were already greatly diminished throughout the mountains of the West. It eliminated the bears from much of their remaining habitat. More recently, in 2001, one of the first acts of the Bush administration was to cancel a plan to reintroduce grizzles in Idaho. In spring 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Yellowstone bear population from the endangered species list.
The Center advocates for an expansive and realistic recovery strategy for grizzly bears. We submitted comments pointing out the scientific inadequacy of the Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting proposal. After the agency removed protections for the 500 to 600 genetically isolated bears there, we filed suit with six other conservation organizations to restore Yellowstone grizzlies to the endangered species list — a case that may take years of motions, rulings, and appeals. We’ve also requested a revision of the outdated grizzly bear recovery plan, and in 2010, we won a significant victory for Yellowstone grizzlies when eastern Idaho’s U.S. Sheep Experiment Station halted grazing on 7,500 acres of grizzly habitat. We’re still seeking expanded protections for grizzlies, designation of new recovery areas, and uplisting of still-protected populations to endangered status.
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