The grizzly bear is an icon of the American wilderness. Its name comes from the gray tips of the shaggy fur that give the animal a "grizzled" look.
Historically, grizzly bears roamed from Alaska to Mexico and across the Great Plains. With a population of around 50,000, the bears could be found in almost half the country. But unregulated hunting, trapping and habitat loss took a toll on grizzly populations in the 19th and early 20th centuries; in places like California the bears were hunted out of existence entirely.
Today, grizzly bears remain on only two percent of their former range. Only about 1,000 to 1,200 grizzly bears still survive in the contiguous United States, with only Alaska still maintaining a healthy population.
In addition to continued threats from habitat loss, mining and drilling, grizzly bears face new struggles as warming temperatures force them to search out new food sources and homes. In the Greater Yellowstone region, one of the bear's important food sources, the whitebark pine, has been declared officially endangered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The whitebark pine is one of the first species to be listed with an official acknowledgment that climate change is a major factor in its decline. Vast stands of the pine have been devastated by the mountain pine beetle, whose populations have grown dramatically and spread to higher elevations as climate change has created warmer winters.
With the lowest reproduction rate of any mammal in the lower 48 states, grizzlies are particularly vulnerable to extinction. As climate change erodes the health of prime grizzly habitats in some areas, bears will need additional room to roam in search of better habitats to find food and safety.
Currently, the Sierra Club is challenging a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List, a move that could undercut long-term preservation efforts.
In order to protect the grizzly bear, The Sierra Club recommends:
- Keeping Endangered Species Act protections in place for the grizzly in the lower 48 states
- Creating, connecting, and protecting roadless areas and wilderness to give grizzly bears room to roam and to adjust to changing conditions
- Implementing education programs to lessen conflicts between people and bears