SAVING THE GRIZZLY BEAR
Reaching up to 800 pounds and 8 feet tall when standing, grizzly bears boast tremendous size and physical strength and have almost no enemies. Actually, they have just a single natural enemy — humans. But we've proved formidable.
As human settlers from Europe settled in and 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'd been wiped out almost entirely, grizzlies in the lower 48 were placed on the endangered species list. Today they remain in only about 6 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 lives there.
Just a few of the threats faced by these persecuted predators are loss of major food sources due to climate change, genetic isolation, and increased human-caused mortality.
The Center advocates for an expansive and realistic recovery strategy for grizzly bears. First we filed petitions to recover bears in more of their historic range, including areas in Colorado and Utah, and to reintroduce bears into the Selway-Bitterroot area in Idaho. Finally we were forced to sue; our 2019 lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s failure to update the bears' federal recovery plan addresses the need for the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider additional areas where grizzlies once lived and can now be reintroduced.
So far attempts to prematurely strip Yellowstone grizzlies of federal protection have been thwarted by tribal and conservation groups like the Center — including via a lawsuit in federal court. We filed a lawsuit in 2016 challenging the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission's illegal, fast-tracked adoption of grizzly bear hunting regulations that opened the door for trophy hunting. And in summer 2020 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal court’s 2018 ruling that the Trump administration illegally stripped Endangered Species Act protections from Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. The decision spares the grizzlies from previous plans for trophy hunts in Wyoming and Idaho.