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Yellowstone's Grizzlies Need Your Support

By Tom Valtin

The Bush administration says it wants to protect grizzlies, yet it continues to attack the Endangered Species Act and other protections that allow the great bear to survive. Efforts to recover lost or imperiled grizzly habitat have been hugely aided by the Endangered Species Act, and one of the places recovery efforts have been most successful is in the Greater Yellowstone Area. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are probably fewer than 600 grizzlies left in the Yellowstone region. Total grizzly population in the continental U.S. is estimated at 1,200 to 1,400 animals—down from more than 50,000 in the early 1800's.

One of the final steps in removing federal protections for the grizzly is already underway. The U.S. Forest Service recently released its Draft Forest Plan Amendments for Grizzly Bear Conservation in the Greater Yellowstone Area National Forests, a step which will further enable the federal government to remove grizzlies from the Endangered Species List.

Perhaps more than any other North American animal, grizzly bears embody the true spirit of wilderness. A little over a century ago, grizzlies still roamed from the plains of the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast. Now, a tenuous few remnant populations remain in isolated pockets of the Northern Rockies.

“As a result of industrial logging and road building, increased motorized recreation, oil and gas drilling, and residential population growth, grizzly habitat is far less secure than when the population was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975,” says Heidi Godwin of the Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project.

According to leading researchers, current grizzly bear population numbers are far too low, islands of grizzly habitat are too isolated from each other, and the area of protected habitat is far too small to ensure the long-term survival of the grizzly in the Lower 48. But despite these facts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to remove Endangered Species Act protections from the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears.

“The progress that bears have made so far in their recovery has been slow, difficult, and relatively small,” says Monica Fella, a Sierra Club organizer in Bozeman, Montana. “The grizzly is a tough animal to recover because grizzlies need large home ranges, remote habitat with little human activity, and their reproduction rate is working against them—grizzlies are the second-slowest reproducer in North America.”

Currently the Forest Service is asking for public comments on its Draft Forest Plan Amendments for the Greater Yellowstone Area National Forests. These proposed changes to forest management plans will guide the management of grizzly bear habitat on six national forests in Greater Yellowstone by determining how much habitat is protected and what level of protection those lands will receive.

The single most important thing concerned activists can do right now is send a letter to the Forest Service encouraging the strongest protections for grizzly bears and their habitat to ensure long-term viability for bears. While the Forest Service’s preferred Alternative 2 takes some positive steps, including limits on further loss of habitat within the grizzly bear Primary Conservation Area, it falls short of protecting the habitat bears need. The Sierra Club supports Alternative 4, which best secures a brighter future for grizzlies.

TAKE ACTION: Ask the Forest Service for a plan that:

Protects grizzly bear habitat—Alternative 4 safeguards some 2.9 million acres of currently occupied grizzly habitat outside the Primary Conservation Area (PCA) that would not be protected in Alternative 2. In addition, Alternative 2 would allow loss of key grizzly habitat within the PCA through more roads, logging, and oil and gas development. Alternative 4 would protect these lands and prevent further habitat destruction.

Keeps remaining wildlands wild for bearsAlternative 4 protects roadless areas, the most important habitat for grizzly bears. Keeping these areas roadless will retain the wild characteristics of the habitat that bears need to survive. Alternative 2 has many loopholes that would allow for loss of roadless lands both inside and outside the PCA. Additionally, Alternative 2 makes no provisions for linking the Greater Yellowstone to bear populations in other ecosystems.

Expands food storage requirements to all national forests—Every year grizzlies are killed because they get into human food and garbage, making them a threat to people and property. This could be prevented if food and trash were properly stored in our national forests. Alternative 4 would mandate that all area forests put in place forest-wide food storage requirements.

Please send written comments by November 12 to: R2 Grizzly Bear Amendments, c/o Content Analysis Team, P.O. Box 22810, Salt Lake City, UT 84122-2810. Fax: (801) 517-1021; or e-mail comments here.

For more information please visit the Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Project Web site, call (406) 582-8365 or e-mail us here.


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