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Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bears

Learn more about Grizzly Bears.

The grizzly bear's historic range covered much of North America from the plains westward to California and from central Mexico north through Canada and Alaska. Today, the grizzly is found in only about 2% of its original range in the lower 48 states. It was listed as threatened south of Canada in July of 1975.

Currently, south of Canada, there are five grizzly bear subpopulations in Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Grizzlies are difficult to survey, yet it is generally agreed there are more than 500 in the northwest Montana Rockies, about 600 in and around Yellowstone National Park, about 50 in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington, and 30 to 40 in the Cabinet-Yaak area of northern Idaho and western Montana. Probably less than a dozen grizzlies survive in the North Cascades. There are about 22,000 grizzlies in Canada and more than 30,000 in Alaska.

Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Grizzlies were never eliminated from Montana, but their numbers probably reached their lowest levels in the 1920s.  At that time, changes were made out of concern for the future of the species including designating grizzlies a "game animal" in 1923, the first such designation of the species in the lower 48 states.  This change, along with the early prohibitions on the use of dogs to hunt bears, outlawing baiting (both in 1921), closing seasons, etc., had the effect of allowing grizzlies to survive in portions of western Montana.

The degree of protection and the sophistication of management practices have grown steadily.  In the 1940s, the importance of protecting fish and wildlife habitat began to emerge as a key public issue in wildlife management.  Through all of the previous years, wildlife conservation was the goal, and was sought through the restriction and regulation of hunters and anglers.  Although partially effective, the regulations and laws failed to address a more fundamental issue:  the protection of fish and wildlife habitat.

Habitat protection under state authority began with winter game range acquisitions in the 1940s and stream preservation in the early 1960s.  Generally, concern for and protection of habitat appeared in state laws dealing with controlling natural resource development.  These laws usually addressed specific resource issues such as surface mining and siting of major industrial facilities.  An exception to this specific approach was the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) adopted in 1971.  Montana MEPA law mirrored in large part the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) adopted by Congress in 1969.

High mortality rates resulting from closure of the remaining open dumps in Yellowstone National Park (YNP),  raised concerns over the status of the grizzly population in the greater Yellowstone area during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  This population, along with other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states, was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1975.  As a result of this listing, many management changes were made to benefit grizzlies.  A federal recovery plan was prepared and approved in 1982 and revised in 1993.  The success of recovery efforts is evident in the estimates of bear numbers in the area, increasing from approximately 230 in the late 1960s to a more than 700 bears today.  This has set the stage for delisting of the population segment and a return of this population to state and national parks management.

Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem

In 1995 the USFWS helped negotiate two landmark agreements that partially resolved long-standing logging and grizzly issues in the Swan Valley. One involved 296,000 acres of public and corporate lands administered by Plum Creek Timber Company, US Forest Service (USFS), and the State of Montana. In a separate but related agreement, Swan Valley residents developed land management recommendations for private landowners on issues involving sanitation, subdivision, road construction, and real estate disclosures. These agreements will facilitate grizzly movement between the Mission Mountains and the more secure Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, and help reduce human pressure on grizzlies during the critical spring feeding period.

Other developments in 1995 included: (1) new USFS food handling regulations for wilderness areas; (2) standardized methods for reporting grizzly mortalities and incidents; (3) an information campaign to explain roading issues; and (4) development of a "draft conservation strategy" that describes how the grizzly and its habitat will be managed following delisting.

In 1995 the Northern Continental Divide population suffered 17 known mortalities: seven from management actions, three from illegal kills, two from train kills, three from natural causes, and two from unknown causes.

Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem

In the 1980s, only a few grizzlies remained in this area. In a first-time experiment with augmentation, the USFWS radio-collared and released four subadult female grizzlies from British Columbia between 1990 and 1994. None of these bears has caused problems and the initial effort has been judged a success. The ultimate success of this project will depend on whether these female bears survive, find mates, and reproduce.

Between 1986 and 1995, only 13 individual grizzlies were documented in this ecosystem. The USFWS plans to continue monitoring this small population.

Bitterroot-Selway Ecosystem

This six million acres of unoccupied habitat is the largest unbroken expanse of roadless area left in the lower 48 states. The heart of it is in Idaho, but about 250,000 acres extend eastward into Montana. It is historic grizzly country, but the last known grizzly there was killed in 1956. The USFWS is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) that will assess the possibility of reintroducing grizzlies to this area; a draft is scheduled for completion in 1996. Reintroduction could begin as early as the summer of 1998.

Because this grizzly reintroduction proposal is controversial, a new, collaborative approach is being tried. Four organizations -- Defenders of Wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation, the Intermountain Forest Industry Association, and Idaho's Resource Organization on Timber Supply -- are working together in an unprecedented way to foster grizzly recovery while maintaining the health of local economies. This coalition has developed an alternative for the EIS that would assign "experimental" status to reintroduced grizzlies and authorize a Citizens Management Committee (with minority agency representation) to guide overall management of the Bitterroot Grizzly Recovery Program.