Dear Grizzly People Supporter:
I wanted to give you the latest update in the plight of the grizzly bear, and key actions and decisions that will affect their fates for many years. Of particular concern is the proposed removal of federal endangered species protections for the grizzly bear populations around Yellowstone and Glacier.
At the top of the food chain, the magnificent grizzly bear has no animal to fear but the two-legged kind. Two hundred years ago, Europeans settled in the best habitat, and killed thousands of grizzly bears which they saw as competition or a threat. Grizzly bear numbers plummeted in the lower 48 states, reduced to just 1% of their former numbers and relegated to the most remote remaining wilderness areas.
The more recent story of grizzly bears as a menacing predator stands in stark contrast to an older one that emphasized kinship between people and grizzly bears, and the vital role of grizzly bears as a guide and teacher. Indeed, as grizzly bears and humans migrated together across the Bering Strait to North America 18,000 years ago, and expanded through the US and Canada, people watched bears very closely to learn what plants were good to eat and when to eat them. The idea of deliberately killing their teachers would most likely have been abhorrent to these Native Americans. Timmothy would have undoubtedly agreed.
Thanks to protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, the grizzly bear still survives in the lower 48. Hunting was stopped and killing was made illegal. Human garbage and other bear attractants, which often led to habituation and death of the bear, were made less available to bears. Habitat was protected and restored, and thousands of domestic sheep were removed from key habitat. (Grizzly bears have a penchant for sheep, and were often killed by herders). There is no doubt that the grizzly bear is one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act. It is also clear that the fate of the grizzly bear lies in our hands: we can mete out death or life, depending on our view of bears.
Due to significant scientific research on grizzly bears, we now know how the bear knits the whole ecosystem together. Eating everything from ants and biscuitroot to two-ton buffalo, the grizzly bear provides a unique window into the workings of the web of life. And it serves to keep the ecosystem healthy by redistributing nutrients, and aerating the soil through the digging of roots. Indeed, the grizzly bear is considered a barometer of the health of the ecosystems where it lives: where bears are healthy, so is a vast array of other wildlife, from moose to songbirds.
Unfortunately, today the grizzly bear is still threatened by habitat loss, excessive killing and now climate change. Bear numbers have not appreciatively increased since listing in the lower 48, and all five remaining populations are effectively isolated from each other, especially Yellowstone. Making matters worse, climate change and introduction of nonnative species have resulted in the collapse of two key natural foods for bears in Yellowstone, the seeds of whitebark pine and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. This is forcing bears to eat more meat, which has heightened conflict with big game hunters and livestock operators.
Experts believe that habitat quality for the grizzly bear will continue to decline as a result of climate change. This means that bears will need more room to roam to get enough calories to survive the long winter months of hibernation, and it means that garbage reduction and coexistence efforts must be redoubled.
Despite many effective programs to reduce mortality, such as the garbage reduction in Yellowstone Park, and work by ranchers and agencies to ease conflicts with bears east of Glacier Park, these efforts are piecemeal and insufficient. Similarly, habitat protections are uneven and haphazardly implemented by the US Forest Service, which manages millions of acres of grizzly bear habitat.
Instead of addressing the problems of excessive killing, insufficient habitat protections, and climate change, later this year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to prematurely remove endangered species protections from Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. And in 2016, it aims to remove protections for bears (or delisting) in Glacier National Park and surrounding areas.
Delisting will expose grizzly bears to increased levels of killing and state-sponsored sport hunts, reversing the progress toward recovery made to date. The states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are notoriously hostile to large carnivores, as witnessed most recently in the excessive hunting of wolves after delisting. With one of the lowest reproductive rates of any mammal in North America, the grizzly bear cannot withstand hunting on top of already excessive levels of killing.
Meanwhile, three tiny grizzly bear populations along the Canada border are teetering on the very brink of extinction: North Cascades of Washington, the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho and Washington, and the Cabinet Yaak of Idaho and Montana. Here the government is doing little to recover bears. And in 2000, the government walked away from a proposal to restore grizzly bears in the vast Selway Bitterroot ecosystem in central Idaho and Montana. This wild landscape could support as many as 600 grizzly bears, and connect the long-isolated grizzly bear population of Yellowstone to healthier bear populations in Canada.
Rather than pursuing its reckless course to delist the grizzly bears of Yellowstone and Glacier, while watching the three border populations wither, the government should put its shoulder to the wheel and work to expand where bears can be, and connect populations with each other and Canada grizzly bears. And, it should strive to replicate the successes in conflict reduction in Yellowstone and Glacier in other areas.
Ultimately the fate of grizzly bears rests on us, and the story we choose to tell about our relationship. The opportunity of future generations to enjoy the thrill of seeing a grizzly bear in Yellowstone depends on the steps we take now.
Please join us in the fight to ensure recovery of our last grizzly bears.
President, Grizzly People
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Grizzly People Inc.
5006 Coolidge Ave
Culver City CA 90230