What’s next for the great grizzly?

Griz-Goeddel-350x233The fundamental question surrounding future management of the Yellowstone grizzly bear is simply this: What’s best for the bear?

The answer doesn’t just impact the grizzly. In some ways, the future of Yellowstone National Park itself depends upon how we manage the great bear over the next 30 years.

For as the Yellowstone grizzly goes, so goes Yellowstone.

After all, can you imagine Yellowstone without the grizzly? The world’s first national park simply wouldn’t be the same place, even with its 10,000 thermal features, wolves and bison, and magnificent scenery.

But the grizzly’s place in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem fabric is deeper. Much deeper.

For starters, without the grizzly, Greater Yellowstone is no longer an intact ecosystem. Conversely, protect the Yellowstone grizzly, and you ultimately preserve all that defines Greater Yellowstone.

Protecting the grizzly means protecting its food sources — for instance, the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and the waters that sustain it. Protecting the grizzly also means protecting the vast swaths of wildness the bear commands to survive — which in turn sustains wolves, elk, pronghorn, wolverine, lynx, eagles and a full complement of wildlife species. And protecting the grizzly means preserving a Northern Rockies mystique — a quality of life, and a way of life, unmatched anywhere else in the Lower 48 states.

By enabling the Yellowstone grizzly to rebound from the brink of extinction in the early 1980s, with all that’s required to pull off such a marvelous conservation success story, we’ve helped preserve all that makes Greater Yellowstone great.

Today, as a group whose genesis revolves around rescuing the Yellowstone grizzly, GYC celebrates this remarkable recovery and contemplates anew what’s best for the bear.

And so our focus shifts, away from defending the Yellowstone grizzly’s place in the ecosystem to learning how to live, work and recreate in a place where the bear’s range is, happily, expanding. Our challenge now is building tolerance, acceptance and, ultimately, appreciation for the grizzly’s presence, for what it says about where we live, and for what it says about who we are.

To that end, we are dedicating our efforts to three key areas:

* Reducing the growing number of conflicts between humans and bears.

As grizzlies disperse into areas where they haven’t been seen in generations, the natural result is conflict. The vast majority of grizzly mortality comes at the hands of humans.

Our solution: Work on the ground in communities on such programs as bear-proof bin distribution, providing bear spray for hunters, and conducting bear-awareness programs.

It’s working. Our bear-bin effort in Island Park, Idaho, is credited with contributing to a significant decline in conflicts. Meanwhile, this fall, our Board of Directors and Jackson, Wyo., supporters purchased 250 cans of bear spray for hunters on the National Elk Refuge, where grizzlies have appeared for the first time in two decades.

Look for ways you can help as we expand such outreach to communities experiencing conflicts with grizzlies.

* Ensuring and enhancing connectivity between the Greater Yellowstone ecological island and the wilds of the Glacier National Park region.

Grizzlies from both ecosystems reportedly are about 60 miles apart as they continue their march to an inevitable meeting. What a game-changer that would be for the Yellowstone grizzly, which would thus become part of a larger Northern Rockies population.

Our work in southwest Montana’s so-called “High Divide” region is geared in large part toward helping Yellowstone grizzlies move in a northwesterly direction toward a confluence with Crown of the Continent animals. The rugged and remote mountains and valleys provide the perfect habitat for safe passage, if we can protect it.

The made-in-Montana Forest Jobs & Recreation Act, which appears to be picking up steam again and is broadly supported in Montana, would do just that. We’ll let you know when we’ll need your voice to help push this effort forward in Congress.

* Allowing grizzlies to move into all suitable habitat in Greater Yellowstone.

Some wild landscapes where grizzlies haven’t been consistently seen for eons beckon. The Wyoming Range. The Wind River Range. Meanwhile, the area around Yellowstone Lake, once a grizzly stronghold, would become one again if we can continue to restore cutthroat trout populations.

A new day has dawned for the Yellowstone grizzly, and bear management. You’ll be hearing from us often in the coming months as we ask your voice and financial support in efforts that continue to answer the most fundamental and important question for GYC:

What’s best for the Yellowstone grizzly bear?

Comments are closed.