Just 150 years ago, between 50,000 and 100,000 grizzlies roamed western North America, ranging from the Great Plains to the California beaches. Grizzly bears were once common in the Southwest, where 1,000 to 2,000 grizzlies likely inhabited grasslands, riversides, and mountains. Today, barely 800 grizzlies live in the contiguous states. None remain in the Southwest. Grizzly bears currently occupy less than two percent of their original range and numbers.

by Robin Silver The introduction of millions of cattle and sheep in the late 19th century—without regard for the land’s capacity to produce forage—led to the disappearance of this widespread, intelligent bear. Livestock eliminated much of the vegetation that comprises around 90 percent of the grizzly’s diet. As a result, some bears turned to livestock. And starting in 1914, Congress began appropriating money to a special government agency designed to exterminate stock-eating animals.

Grizzly bears were almost wiped out through predator control, habitat destruction, commercial trapping, and hunting. In the 1930’s, the last known grizzly bear in New Mexico was killed in the Gila Wilderness after being discovered near a dead cow. Grizzlies were first listed as threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states in 1975.

The Center has renewed the call for grizzly bear reintroduction into the Gila Headwaters. We are in the process of working with other groups and scientists to update a 1974 grizzly reintroduction study and to begin educating the public on the very realistic, achievable, and socially desirable goals of bringing the great bear back to the wilds of the Southwest.

While trying to recreate and rebuild the pieces of a shattered ecosystem, the Center has been heartened to learn that there are millions of people who see the beauty and majesty of wilderness areas and know that creatures like the grizzly bear have a rightful place here.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
June 25, 2003
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