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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 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. As a result, grizzly bears in the lower 48 states were placed on the endangered species list in 1975. Grizzlies today occupy five areas: the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem (including Yellowstone National Park), the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem (including Glacier National Park), the Northern Cascades in Washington, the Selkirks in northern Idaho, and the Cabinet-Yaak in northeastern Idaho and northwestern Montana. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also listed the Selway-Bitterroot area in Idaho as a critical recovery zone for these bears, though no known grizzly population currently occupies this region.  

The Center advocates for an expansive and realistic recovery strategy for grizzly bears. In June 2014 we filed a “recovery plan petition” asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to recover bears in more of their historic range, including areas in Colorado and Utah, and in December 2014 we petitioned the Service to reintroduce bears into the Selway-Bitterroot area in Idaho. We’re also closely watching management of the Yellowstone grizzly population and offering insight into the population’s status, as the states continually pressure the Service to delist the population. This population still faces critical threats, including loss of major food sources due to climate change, genetic isolation, and increased human-caused mortality.

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

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Carnivore Conservation
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Contact: Andrea Santarsiere

Photo © Robin Silver