Grizzly bears once roamed much of North America and symbolized the continent’s untamed wilderness. But hunters and trappers nearly wiped them out across most of the Lower 48 states by the late 1800s.
In 1975, grizzly bears were formally listed as a threatened species, when it was thought that as few as 136 grizzlies roamed the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which encompasses parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Thanks to that protection, grizzlies have made a remarkable recovery. Many call it one of America’s greatest conservation successes. Their population has swelled to around 700, which some scientists think is the region’s capacity for resident grizzlies. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that Yellowstone grizzlies will be delisted from the endangered species list.
But not everyone is celebrating. The removal of federal protections for Yellowstone grizzlies means that bears that wander outside national park boundaries will be subjected to the hunting laws of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Hunting within Yellowstone National Park is still prohibited. Grizzly bears outside of the Yellowstone area — in the lower 48 states — will continue to have protection… for now, including the approximately 1,000 grizzlies in and around Glacier National Park.
The decision comes as conflict between humans and grizzlies has been on the rise. Six people have been killed by grizzlies since 2010, and 59 grizzlies were killed by humans last year alone, often following attacks on livestock.
But wildlife advocates say the removal is premature and warn it could reverse the species’ gains. A lawsuit challenging this decision is likely forthcoming.
Photo, posted June 7, 2005, courtesy of Oregon State University via Flickr.