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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 4 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.

If grizzlies are ever going to truly recover in the continental United States, we need more bears in more places.
In June 2014 the Center filed a historic legal petition calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand its plans for grizzly recovery, including returning them to vast portions of the American West. The petition identified 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in places like the Selway-Bitterroot in Montana and Idaho, North Cascades in Washington, Gila/Mogollon complex in Arizona and New Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Utah’s Uinta Mountains, California’s Sierra Nevada and parts of Colorado.

If plans for grizzly recovery were expanded according to our petition, the grizzly bear population in the lower 48 could triple to at least 6,000 bears. And the move would provide vital connections among grizzly populations to allow for genetic exchange and to give these bears a better chance at surviving climate change, human population growth, invasive species and other threats.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, grizzly bears have had a complex relationship with humankind. Notwithstanding the bear’s mythic status, a federal predator extermination program began in 1915, when grizzly numbers were already greatly diminished throughout the mountains of the West. Despite disavowing eradication of grizzlies by 1922, the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey’s traps, poison and hound-hunting eliminated the bears from most of their remaining habitat by the mid-1930s. Passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 led to protection for grizzly bears in 1975, as well as planning for their recovery. But in 2001 one of the first acts of the George W. Bush administration was to cancel a plan to reintroduce grizzles in Idaho, and in 2007 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Endangered Species Act protections from the bears in Yellowstone. The Center and allies challenged that decision, and it was was struck down in 2009 — only to have the Service again plan delisting, despite the decline of major food sources for bears in Yellowstone that portends a bleak future.

The Center advocates for an expansive and realistic recovery strategy for grizzly bears and we’ve requested a revision of the outdated grizzly bear recovery plan. In 2010 we won a significant victory for Yellowstone grizzlies when eastern Idaho’s U.S. Sheep Experiment Station halted destructive livestock grazing on 7,500 acres of grizzly habitat. We’re still seeking expanded protections for grizzlies, designation of new recovery areas, and uplisting of certain populations to endangered status.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2014 petition for expanded recovery plan
2013 factsheet: "Why Keep Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Listed?"
2007 rule delisting Yellowstone grizzly population
1975 federal Endangered Species Act listing

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RELATED ISSUES
Carnivore Conservation
Grazing
The Endangered Species Act

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Download a grizzly bear ringtone for your cell phone

 



Check out our grizzly bear infographic.
 

MAP: Grizzly bears in the West

View a larger version of this map — and check out more highted maps on the Center's Maps page.

Contact: Michael Robinson

Photo © Robin Silver