This Article was published by The Huffiington Post: Recovery of the Great Bear?
As was the case for other large carnivores in the lower 48 United States, by the 1960s grizzly bears were nearly extinct. This species had dropped to less than 2 percent of its former range south of Canada and occurred in six small, discrete populations, totaling 800-1,000 individuals.
In response, the US federal government listed the grizzly bear as “threatened” under the new Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1983, Congress approved a recovery plan and convened the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
Due to federal failure to apply best science, US District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in favor of relisting the species. He then asked USFWS to look further into the relationship between whitebark pine and grizzly bear demography.
How one counts grizzly bears has emerged as a leading delisting challenge. In 2013, USFWS found 741 grizzlies roaming the GYE, well above the recovery threshold of 500. However, this count may be biased because whitebark pine and cutthroat trout declines have altered bear feeding patterns, driving them to alternative high-protein, high-fat foods, such as army cutworm moths. The moths live on open, rocky slopes, above treeline. According to Daniel Doak and Kerry Cutler, bears eating moths are more visible and easier to count, making it seem like their numbers have gone up. These scientists suggest that the GYE grizzly population has probably increased far less than is believed. In 2013 in response to questions about habitat, climate change, and how one counts grizzly bears, USFWS published several recovery plan supplements.
Since 1981, grizzly bear recovery has entailed an extensive transboundary, collaborative effort. In the US post-delisting, the states will be responsible for management of the species. Each of the three states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) in the GYE has a grizzly bear management plan. The plans call for establishing a primary conservation area and managing toward an overall population of 500 individuals, with at least 48 breeding females. Post-delisting, these states eventually will allow them to be hunted.
For decades, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks grizzly bear management biologists Tim Manley and Mike Madel have worked tirelessly to help people and bears coexist. They arrive on the scene when there’s a problem, help keep problem bears alive, patiently answer questions, and offer suggestions for making homes and ranches more bear-proof. Such ongoing efforts are essential as we move toward delisting.
A new delisting proposal is expected soon, which will reignite the debate. In the meantime, scientists continue to add to what we know about this controversial species’ needs. Because of their omnivorous diet, grizzly bears are likely to adapt to climate change–provided we give them a chance. This will require applying the precautionary principle in defining recovery and how we live with the great bear.