Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 3, 2016

Contact: Andrea Santarsiere, (303) 854-7748,

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes to Prematurely End
Endangered Species Protection for Yellowstone Grizzlies

Famed Bears Remain Isolated, Face Ongoing Threats

VICTOR, Idaho— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to remove Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone's famed grizzly bears, paving the way for state-supported trophy hunts. Grizzly bear numbers in the Greater Yellowstone area have improved since the animals were first protected in 1975, but the bears continue to be threatened by isolation from other grizzly populations, loss of key food sources and human-caused mortalities. Overall grizzly bears occupy less than 4 percent of their historic U.S. range.    

Grizzly bear
Photo courtesy USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“It’s simply too soon to remove protections for grizzly bears,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re prepared to make sure the Service follows the science and the law to ensure these wonderful animals can truly recover.”

Historically grizzly bears ranged from Alaska to Mexico, with an estimated 50,000 bears occupying the western half of the contiguous United States. With European settlement of the American West, they were shot, poisoned and trapped to near extinction. Today just 1,500 to 1,800 grizzlies are found in five isolated populations in the northern Rocky Mountains and North Cascades, including about 715 in the Yellowstone area.

“Yellowstone’s amazing grizzly bears are loved by people around the world, and they deserve a real shot at survival,” said Santarsiere. “It’s frustrating to see the Fish and Wildlife Service moving to strip protections for bears when these majestic creatures live in just a tiny fraction of their historic range and face a slew of ongoing threats. The science just doesn’t support removing protections for Yellowstone’s bears right now.”

The grizzly bear is currently listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to scientists there are multiple areas in the grizzly bears’ former range where the animals could once again thrive, including the Selway-Bitterroot, Sierra Nevada in California, southern Rockies of Colorado and Grand Canyon area in Arizona. The Center submitted a petition in July 2014 asking the Service to revise its recovery plan for the grizzly bear and consider additional areas, but to date the agency has refused. 

“We’re disappointed that the Obama administration is taking such a narrow view of grizzly bear recovery,” said Santarsiere.

The proposal to remove protections comes at a time when key grizzly bear food sources in the heart of the Yellowstone ecosystem have been collapsing and grizzly mortality rates have been increasing. The dramatic decline of whitebark pine and Yellowstone cutthroat trout has prompted bears to eat more meat, such as big-game gut piles and livestock, resulting in increased conflicts with humans and grizzly bear mortality. Drought and climate change are likely to exacerbate these problems.

Yellowstone’s bears have long been isolated from other bear populations, forcing the government to keep them on permanent life support by trucking bears in to avoid inbreeding. This fact further highlights the need for recovering grizzly bears in more places. 

In December 2014 the Center petitioned the Service to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem in central Idaho and western Montana, which would help connect Yellowstone's bears to other populations. The Fish and Wildlife Service identified the Selway-Bitterroot as a recovery area for grizzly bears in 1993, but due to political meddling under the George W. Bush administration, grizzly bears were not released into the area. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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