The Good, the Bad, and the Grizzly
The Delisted Yellowstone Grizzly Update from Natural Resources Defense Council

July 16, 2008

By Louisa Willcox, NRDC

grizzly bears

Endangered species protections were removed from the Yellowstone grizzly bear population in April 2007.  The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other conservation organizations immediately filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Idaho challenging this decision.  NRDC and others argue that: (1) grizzlies are still threatened by development and loss of key natural foods such as whitebark pine; and, (2) regulatory mechanisms, including state and federal plans, are inadequate to maintain the population.  The briefing in this case begins in August 2008; it will likely take several years to resolve.

Meanwhile, about 30 bears have been killed in the Greater Yellowstone by humans, as of July 2008.  Most grizzly bears do not die of natural causes: humans kill them.  In the summer of 2007, the allowable human-caused mortality level was nearly breached for female grizzly bears, which are especially important to the survival of the population.  (If one more female had been killed, the allowable thresholds would have been violated).  A record number of human maulings by grizzlies also occurred, many during the fall 2007 big game hunting season.  A number of the hunters were not carrying bear pepper spray, a known effective deterrent in grizzly conflict situations.

Since the film was completed, the prognosis for whitebark pine has significantly worsened.  New models by Forest Service experts predict that whitebark pine may become functionally extinct in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the next seven to ten years.  Since about 2001, whitebark pine has been suffering unprecedented attacks by mountain pine beetle, which have been able to survive in these high-elevation forests because of warming temperatures.  Also, the infection rates of a non-native pathogen, white pine blister rust, have also been increasing in whitebark pine; blister rust is as lethal to whitebark pine as the chestnut blight is to the chestnut tree.

Attention is turning increasingly toward restoration of whitebark pine using cones selected from trees determined to be genetically resistant to the rust.  But since whitebark pine trees do not produce cones until they are at least 50 years old, such efforts will not likely help the grizzly bear in the near term future.  There is no known substitute food of similar quality for grizzly bears in the later summer and fall, when bears need to fatten up for winter.

If whitebark pine declines as predicted, grizzly female reproductive success will drop, and human-caused mortality rates will increase as bears are forced to forage in lower elevation habitat to search for food.  Here in these lower areas, human development and subdivision is escalating.  Some counties around Yellowstone Park are doubling in population every six to seven years.  Instead of living in towns, many new arrivals seek to build homes in river bottoms and near national forest lands — the best bear habitat.  The pattern and nature of these developments will make it even more difficult for grizzly bears to access alternative foods as whitebark pine declines.

In addition, threats from energy development are increasing in and around key habitats that grizzly bears will need to use to offset the anticipated loss of whitebark pine in the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Of particular concern is natural gas development in Wyoming’s upper Green River area.  Also, new high-voltage energy transmission lines are being proposed that would, if built, potentially sever Yellowstone’s grizzlies from other grizzly populations to the west and north — leaving Yellowstone grizzlies isolated forever.  This development would exacerbate the existing problems related to the loss of genetic health of Yellowstone grizzly bears following 100 years of isolation.

In the delisting rule, the federal government acknowledged the genetic problems facing the Yellowstone grizzly, and proposed to import one to two bears every ten years to add to the grizzly gene pool.  Citing numerous scientific studies, conservation organizations argue that the genetic health of Yellowstone’s grizzlies could be maintained naturally by connecting Yellowstone grizzlies through natural corridors.  Reliance on ongoing, expensive, artificial importation of grizzly bears does not constitute long-term recovery.  The population must be naturally self-sustaining to be recovered.

Lasting recovery of Yellowstone grizzlies is within our reach, but only if we: (1) act in ways that don’t promote unnecessary conflicts or grizzly bear deaths; (2) plan ahead to accommodate the anticipated loss of key grizzly bear foods from global warming and disease, including whitebark pine, army cutworm moths, and cutthroat trout; and (3) work to prevent unnecessary fragmentation and loss of key habitat, and to ensure that ecological connections between Yellowstone and other grizzly populations are protected.

Grizzlies in and around our nation’s oldest park deserve our best efforts to ensure that they will be here for the enjoyment of future generations.  In light of shrinking habitat and new threats from global warming, grizzly protections should be redoubled — not removed.

  • bo marley

    That Stinks :(

  • Jenny Strobbe

    Grizzlies are not on our turf we are on theirs and maybe its time most people think about that. In the documentary there were numerous people out of their vehicles on the road with the bears. THAT IS WRONG! Its human error and human fault that is the reason our grizzlies are in danger and being killed. Its not their fault its is humans fault.

  • Jacque

    Awesome & upsetting.Is this episode available for purchase?

  • Michael

    It just amazes me that our government will sacrifice whatever it can to apes industry lobbyists. What is Yellowstone without one of its major natural resource, wildlife. Laws are needed to protect species, wildlife and humans, but the few who hunt and the ones that want to drill or tear down trees in these areas seem to have the louder voice. How do we change that?

  • Kate

    I’ve been to Yellowstone and the Tetons three times. Camped all over, hiked and photographed numerous grizzly bears….a true total of 33 bears-less than 40 yards away. I have also read several bear attack books, behavior books, and so forth. Lived in Alaska with bears. These bears deserve to be saved. They are powerful, fast and capable of love. Watch a mother with her cubs. It’s spectacular! They are also furocious when they attack. You would never want to encounter a bear- trust those that have. This is where we people need to be SMART! Reading and learning about bears makes us more safe and allows the grizzly to live freely. Carrying pepper spray walking,jogging, biking. Having no scent on our body, keeping vigilant lookout for bears, making noise, never hiking alone, being very clean.
    These things help the bear survive as well as humans. But some people are just plain STUPID and won’t read the signs/listen. Bears deserve the best. It’s disgusting what some men did to the animals in Yellowstone in the 1890s. It’s about time bears get their land back. We should offer ranchers bear proof fencing for their livestock. That would be fair for all. Thanks for caring about these bears,their future, and the peoples safety in bear country.

  • Amalia Wirth

    I have had several thoughts about the bears, and guess what? They were here before us humans!
    There is a GOOD way to deal with bears, without killing them. I also traveled the world, and if anyone credible wants to ask me how, I will let them know.
    I understand the dilema, as Istanbul, Turkey, taught me this.
    Thanks for all your great nature shows!
    Mrs. A. Wirth

  • Hayley Michaels

    Today people are killing bears and even more and more.They were here way befor us. And you know what? We are bothering them.You know how, we are takeing their food and their homes.Cuting down their forest is takeing their homes, and shoting the animals is takeing their food.See people we are takeing their food so why can’t they take are’s.They are going to keep doing this if we keep takeing their food.So people listen to me listen to all the people that have commented on this page but more impotanley listen to the calls of evrey bear.They are like starving children and adults. And they are also like homeless people on the streets don’t have nowear to go because of us thats all that I’v got to say. Thank You to the people that listen to the bears calling out.

    THANK YOU!!!
    Hayley Michaels

  • Kacey

    I feel sorry for the bears that are being threatened.

  • Jackson

    Pepper spray is not always successful and thus not a 100% known effective deterent against bears! I do not think that it is wise to advocate pepper spray as such. I worked in Yellowstone Park and there are precautions that many don’t take when wandering into wild animal territory. However a bear is a wild and thus unpredictable animal, and if they don’t have enough to eat from their natural resources they will naturally attack easy prey i.e humans.

  • E Brown

    I was charged by a grizzly in 2007 bear spray saved me.
    I have the utmost respect for these animals, the speed and agility of such a huge creature is amazing.

  • E Putnam

    The avalailable habitat must determine the size of a species population. A reduction in habitat should have a corresponding reduction in the numbers of animals that depend on that habitat. We all want more bears, but if the habitat won’t sustain a growing population, then we’ll have to settle for what the habitat will sustain. Hunting is an efficient management tool for achieving that goal, while efforts to improve habitat are being undertaken.

  • Jim

    I am always amazed at how man always feels the wild animal is the problem. This PBS show reveals the nature of man; ruthless to the end. The only reason man is at the top of the food chain is due to our weapons, without those we would be extinct. What even amazes me more is the fact that all of you writing in to air your opinions do not provide any insight as to how to save these animals or who to write to in order to petition the saving of these animals and others in the wild. As a resident of Florida this issue does not affect me directly but I certainly do care. I equate this bear issue to our alligator issue here in Florida. Alligators are predators as are the bears. The alligator has been on the protected list and we now have an alligator hunting season. The big problem however is man encroachimg on its habitat thus causing more human confrontations as with the bear. Despite these confrontations I feel that killing an animal is murder. Hunting to survive is one thing and hunting for sport is another. This problem is playing out throughout the World from Chinas Panda Bear to the elephants in Africa. All I can say is thank God for the good people who are trying to save our animals on our planet like those great men and women in Yellowstone who are trying to relocate the bears instead of killing them. Write your Senators and Congressman!

  • Gary

    In the PBS Nature series titled “Bears of the Last Frontier” Chris Morgan summed up the importance of Grizzly Bears this way “where the Grizzly Bear lives it is said the Earth is whole”. If we truly want to protect and maintain Grizzly Bears we must protect their habitat. Its time to quit talking and writing how tragic humans have put themselves first and its time to act. Support Vital Ground, a non profit organization that is protecting Grizzly Bear habitat.

  • Andy

    Why does Nature offer ani-hunting activists so much time on their programs? Rarely will you see a hunter express their opinion. Even the state and federal game agencies were not heard on their opinion of bear hunting. Some of the most experienced bear biologists with decades of grizzly data know that a grizzly hunting season is sustainable. Biologists have proven over and over again with hundreds of wildlife species all over the world that they have the science and means to allow harvest of individual animals and conserve populations. The NRDC is wasting state and federal dollars and resources with their law suit. If the NRDC thinks that they have data and science superior to several state and federal wildlife management agencies, it just shows how arrogant and radical they are. Nay, this is an animal rights ploy, and it is counterproductive to wildlife conservation. No other means has been as effective to conserve wildlife and their habitat as hunting. Hunting license sales, Pittman-Robertson dollars, and the economic value placed on wildlife through hunting changed the landscape and ecology of the United States. In North America, if you truly want to conserve a species, place a hunting season on it.

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