After thinking about it the other day, I realized it is a tad bit absurd that I have been to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and have yet to witness a wild grizzly. Of course, I would want to witness such a sight in a sunny meadow from a far distance, not charging at me at 30 miles per hour on a trail.
But after reading the news today, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it all. Relieved? Concerned? Let’s walk through this situation.
In 1975, the Grizzly bear was listed as threatened with extinction. Subsequently, conservation efforts were set in place. From around 150 animals in the 1970’s to over 700 today, the Greater Yellowstone grizzly is one of the Endangered Species Act’s most successful wildlife comeback stories. Lately however this species has been a hot topic of discussion because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had been proposing to delist this species from protection within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) under the Endangered Species Act.
So if you hadn’t already heard, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced today that they are delisting the bear from the Endangered Species Act. After 42 years of it being on the list. That there is some news.
Because the bears of the GYE are an island population, opponents/bear experts of the issue say that they might not have a broad enough spectrum of genetics to adapt to the list of causational effects that the species may face. And if that isn’t a great enough issue, an altered environment due to climate change may also cause a decline in food sources such as the white bark pine. Another endangered species, this main contributor of food to the bears have already seen large reductions in population size. This decision will greatly impact recovery in the Yellowstone region of both species. Without the federal protection under the Endangered Species List, the grizzly population could face continual problems.
Grizzly bears are wide ranging mammals who require vast areas of undisturbed habitat to continue forth in their existence. Habitat loss is a common issue largely related to their reduction in population, mostly due to human disturbance and development. Oil and gas, timber harvest, recreation, livestock grazing, excessive roaded access, poaching, and now hunting are factors responsible for their threatened status as well. Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho have already stated that without federal protections, the numbers of grizzlies with be reduced as those three states are now allowing people to hunt the bears, as an open grizzly season will soon be in place.
Reproductively, Grizzly bears are among the slowest of land mammals in North America. Females typically don’t reproduce until they are four to five years old and have a short mating season from May to July. Until October or November, their bodies delay implantation of eggs, along with the fact that if the female has not gained enough fat over the summer in preparation for the long winter ahead, her ability to raise cubs in the spring would be near impossible, let alone give her a chance at survival. A female bear’s reproductive ability is very sensitive to the surrounding environment and impacts much of how she reproduces.
Today’s decision might not only harm this iconic population, but could also cause an upset in the balance of the entire GYE. As keystone species, grizzlies help regulate prey species and disperse the seeds of various plant species. Scientists and experts believe that grizzlies are an essential part of healthy ecosystems in this area of North America.
Symbolically, there is no animal greater than that of the Grizzly bear. Truly an embodiment of this country’s stunning but dwindling wilderness, I find the idea of grizzlies occupying the wild and magnificent places, like Yellowstone, more incredible than no grizzlies wandering around at all.
The spine-tingling alertness felt at clutching a canister of bear spray makes for a more focused time in national parks and forests. In using proper education and awareness, we can find new ways for humans and wildlife to peacefully coexist in the places we all call home. As a stewardess of this land, environmentalist and lover of all things wild, I think that we owe it to future generations to protect this species so that they get the chance to witness the glory of a grizzly bear in the place it calls home. After all, the bear was probably there first.