From garbage baiting to climate change, humans continue to shape grizzly bear survival

grizzly bear

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

While the grizzly’s impressive stature renders them top predators, in the wild bears dine mostly on berries, plants, and insects. Outside of breeding and cub rearing, they are solitary animals. But they congregate around rich food resources and, if challenged, can pursue at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour.

Grizzlies once roamed the western U.S. and Great Plains. But shrinking habitat and human persecution forced the animals into the rugged mountains and forests of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Due to dwindling populations, in 1975 grizzlies living in the lower 48 were designated ‘threatened’ and given protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Up until the late 1960s, visitors to Yellowstone national Park commonly viewed grizzlies at garbage dumps, hotel trash bins, and abandoned campsites. The relationship between human food and bears was so pervasive that it inspired the cartoon character Yogi Bear.

Mounting injuries – to both bears and curious humans – led to a closing of park dumps and a move to get bears back into the wild for their food. While the first few decades of recovery were bumpy, the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — a million acre expanse of wild lands with Yellowstone National Park at its core — has undergone a remarkable recovery.

“Today there are probably about 600 bears in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and that’s a tremendous success story for the Endangered Species Act, says Mark Pearson of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.  “But it’s still not quite a completed story.”

We’ve cleaned up the dumps.  Now we need to work on less visible impacts that threaten the future of bears:  Invasive species and climate change.

Web Extra

Mark Pearson of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition says the loss of Whitebark Pine is also negatively impacting grizzly bears…

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Photo, taken on August 14, 2009 using a Nikon D60, courtesy of Princess Lodges via Flickr

Earth Wise is a presentation of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Follow us Facebook Twiter RSS Podcast