Yellowstone grizzly bears have come back from the brink of extinction in the world’s first national park. Today we have more than 700 bears in Greater Yellowstone – up from fewer than 150 bears in the 1970s. Grizzlies not only represent the wildness of Yellowstone, but they also represent the success of the Endangered Species Act.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition has been working to protect bears here for more than 30 years. Today our top priority is to make sure bears have what they need to thrive through the next 30 years and beyond.
That’s why we’re asking for your help. The bear’s amazing comeback has prompted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to propose taking grizzly bears off the endangered species list and moving bear management to the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
Not so fast. The Service’s process is a mess. If delisting bears is going to work, they need to have their ducks in a row – and so far, we’ve seen only shambles. Let’s hold their feet to the fire. Please join us in telling the Service to correct its course. Make your voice heard on behalf of Yellowstone grizzly bears!
As you prepare your comments for the Service, we want to share some writing that’s really resonated with us. David Quammen’s final paragraphs in the all-Yellowstone issue of National Geographic (on newsstands now!) crystallize GYC’s outlook on protecting grizzly bears – particularly when it comes to working with partners to keep people safe and bears wild:
And me? My concerns focus on the grizzly bear, because I consider this the highest and best purpose of Yellowstone Park and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: to preserve a viable population of that great, terrible animal at the center of the American West into the indefinite future. But I no longer share the extreme pessimism of bear-advocate friends of mine, like Doug Peacock and Dave Mattson, nor their distrust of Kerry Gunther, Mark Bruscino, Chris Servheen, and the other conscientious agency biologists I’ve met, who believe that the bear’s intelligence and flexibility of behavior will keep it robust and numerous despite changes in the landscape that require greater reliance on some different foods.
After all, they say, the grizzly is an omnivore, and three major dietary items—the trout, the pine nuts, the moths—have never been available to all of Yellowstone’s bears every year, nor even to many bears during some years. Whitebark pine nuts come and go in cycles. Spawning cutthroat offered nothing to bears on the west side of Yellowstone, distant from the lake. Likewise with army cutworm moths: Many grizzlies exploit them, but not all grizzlies.
Change may come, these scientists say, but the bear will adapt to the challenge. Dan Wenk is right, though, that the devil could be in the details—that the opaque process of delisting and the return of responsibility to the states contain potential harm to the grizzlies, and to the public’s interest in them, against which there must be guarantees.
Meanwhile we the owners of Yellowstone National Park, and of Grand Teton, and of the national forests and other federal lands of the ecosystem, face some new challenges of our own. The parks need more funding for the impossible work they do; only a fraction of their operating and improvement funds comes from Congress, whereas crucial initiatives such as the Yellowstone Wolf Project are supported by private money, through “friends” organizations such as the Yellowstone Park Foundation. The parks need political support for hard decisions, such as the one that may come when, because of overcrowding, private automobiles are no longer allowed to enter. Sorry: Get on the shuttle.
The most heated wildlife issues, notably grizzly and bison and wolf, need collaborative solutions, not continuing warfare. Passionately dedicated people need to recognize that righteous intransigence is not a strategy; it’s just a satisfying attitude. The various agency members of the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee need to add private groups as partners and to make bold decisions that transcend turf politics. Climate change seems to be hurting Yellowstone—by way of temperature ranges, insect cycles, drought, who knows what else—and we all need to do better on fixing that.
Ha, easier said than done. But if the Yellowstone grizzly bear is expected to adapt, modify its behavior, and cope with new realities, shouldn’t we be expected to do that too?
-- GYC staff