Monday, December 17, 2012

Threatened grizzly bear populations and their recovery

Prior to western expansion and settlement, grizzly bears ranged from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as the western shores of Hudson Bay. When Lewis and Clark explored the West in the early 1800s, an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears roamed between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains, across vast stretches of open and unpopulated land. However, when pioneers moved in, bears were persecuted and their numbers and range drastically declined. As European settlement expanded over the next hundred years, towns and cities sprung up, and habitat for these large omnivores--along with their numbers--shrunk drastically. Today, with the western United States inhabited by millions of Americans, only a few small corners of grizzly country remain, supporting about 1,200 - 1,400 wild grizzly bears. Of 37 grizzly populations present in 1922, 31 were extirpated by 1975.

In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the Lower 48 States under the Endangered Species Act, placing the species under federal protection. Today, grizzly bear distribution is primarily within but not limited to the areas identified as “Recovery Zones”. Here are the latest population figures as of October 2012:

* North Cascades area of north central Washington (9,500 sq mi) at less than 20 bears.

* Selkirk Mountains area of northern Idaho, northeast Washington, and southeast British Columbia (2,200 sq mi) at approximately 80 bears.

* Cabinet Yaak area of northwest Montana and northern Idaho (2,600 sq mi) at more than 40 bears. The Selkirk Mountain and the Cabinet Yaak are also known as the Selkirk/Cabinet Yaak ecosystem.

* Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of north central Montana (9,600 sq mi) at approximately 765 bears.

* Bitterroot Recovery Zone in the Bitterroot Mountains of east central Idaho and western Montana (5,600 sq mi), however this area does not contain any grizzly bears at this time.

* Yellowstone area in northwest Wyoming, eastern Idaho, and southwest Montana (9,200 sq mi) at more than 580 bears;

(Note: the San Juan Mountains of Colorado also were identified as an area of possible grizzly bear occurrence, but no evidence of grizzly bears has been found in the San Juan Mountains since a bear was killed there in 1979.)

For more information on recovery in each of these ecosystems, please click here.

In September 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service completed a 5-year review of grizzly bear as listed in the lower 48 States. A 5-year review is an assessment of the best scientific and commercial data available at the time of the review.

For more information on hiking in grizzly bear country, please click here.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

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