Reaching up to 800 pounds and 8 feet tall when standing, grizzly bears boast tremendous size and physical strength and have almost no enemies. As a matter of fact, they have just a single natural enemy — humans. But we have proved to be a formidable one.

As we expanded westward across North America, motivated both by fear and the desire for profit, we undertook a massive kill-off of bears. Federal predator control of bears, which began in 1915 when grizzly numbers were already greatly diminished throughout the mountains of the West, eliminated bears from much of their remaining habitat. In 1975 when they had been wiped out almost entirely, grizzly bears in the lower 48 states were placed on the endangered species list. Today grizzlies occupy less than 2 percent of their original range.

Grizzlies now 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 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 also petitioned the agency to reintroduce bears into the Selway-Bitterroot area in Idaho.

Unfortunately, in March 2016 the feds prematurely proposed to strip Yellowstone grizzlies of their Endangered Species Act protection, which would leave these persecuted predators even more vulnerable to critical threats like loss of major food sources due to climate change, genetic isolation, and increased human-caused mortality. The Center is closely watching management of the Yellowstone grizzly population and offering insight into its status. The Center and allies filed a lawsuit in September 2016 challenging the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission's illegal, fast-tracked adoption of grizzly bear hunting regulations that open the door for trophy hunting following the bears's removal of Endangered Species Act protections. In August 2017, a coalition of tribal and conservation interests —including the Center — filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to restore critical protections to the Yellowstone region’s iconic grizzly bears before new threats, including hunting, push the population further into decline.

Photo © Robin Silver