Image © Roger Hayden - all rights reserved
We Need (and Can Have) More Bears
There is ample opportunity to expand where grizzly bears can live, both within currently occupied ecosystems as well as in places where grizzly bears have been extirpated. Allowing grizzly bears to continue to occupy areas that connect the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems is a first step. It is also possible to increase the smaller Cabinet‐Yaak population by perhaps an additional 100 bears, and the Selkirk population by an additional 80 to 90 bears, including the portion of the recovery zone in Canada.
Grizzly bears could be restored to other areas as well. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has not yet conducted a comprehensive analysis of suitable habitat for grizzly bears in the lower-48 states. FWS acknowledged the need to do evaluate the suitability of additional habitat in its 2011 status review of the grizzly bear, noting the potential for grizzly bear recovery in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington. Presently the agency is preoccupied with removing endangered species protections from Yellowstone and Glacier Ecosystem grizzly bears (debunking delisting), and has no plans to conduct such an assessment.
Restoring grizzly bears to additional areas would restore diverse behaviors that have been lost, such as foraging on oak, manzanita and pinon pine seeds. This would increase opportunities for the overall adaptability of the species to our rapidly changing world. It would also benefit the many ecosystems that once harbored grizzly bears. Restoration of grizzly bears in suitable habitat would also represent a precautionary approach, wiser than keeping all the eggs in a few baskets. (see core values).
Potential grizzly bear habitat in the lower 48 States, within the historic range of grizzly bears
The largest areas of with the potential of supporting a substantial number of additional grizzlies are the North Cascades and Selway Bitterroot ecosystems. (where the bears are). Recent research shows that the North Cascades, where reintroduction of grizzly bears is being considered, has the potential to support a population of over 700 grizzly bears. There is similarly extensive grizzly bear habitat in the Selway Bitterroot with several rigorous studies showing that the area could support a robust population ranging from 300 to more than 600 bears, depending on the extent of the area considered.
In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity compiled all of the maps of suitable grizzly bear habitat that have been produced by various spatial analyses. The combined results of these studies are shown in the map that follows.
Potential grizzly bear habitat in the lower 48 States, within the historic range of the grizzly bear.
Several areas pop out as having enough potential to warrant further inquiries into their suitability for grizzly bears. Among these are the Mogollon Rim and Gila Wilderness complex in Arizona and New Mexico, Sierra Nevada in California, and Uinta Mountains in Utah and Wyoming. It is time to examine the potential of these and other ecosystems to support grizzly bears. As articulated in the core values section, it is time to let the public decide the course they want to take with the grizzly bear’s future.