Grizzly bear population is eroding: the threats to the species are many

The grizzly bear is listed as threatened in the contiguous United States and endangered in parts of Canada

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Grizzly bear population is eroding: the threats to the species are many

There are an estimated 55,000 wild grizzlies in all of North America, 30,000 of which are found in Alaska. In the lower 48 United States, about 1,000 are found in the Northern Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. About 1,000 live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the tri-state area of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

There are approximately 70-100 grizzlies living in northern and eastern Idaho. Its original range included much of the Great Plains and Southwestern States, but it has been extirpated in most of these areas. Combining Canada and the United States, grizzly bears inhabit about half the area of their historic range.

Alaska's population is the highest population of any state in North America. Populations in Alaska are densest along the coast, where food supplies such as salmon are most abundant. Admiralty Island National Monument protects the densest population: 1,600 bears on a 1,600-square-mile island.

Most of Canada's grizzly population lives in British Columbia. Grizzlies are considered to be more aggressive than black bears when defending themselves and their offspring. Unlike smaller black bears, adult grizzlies do not climb trees well and respond to danger by holding on to the ground and fending off attackers.

Mothers who defend cubs are the most prone to attack and are responsible for 70% of humans killed by grizzlies. Grizzly bears normally avoid contact with people. Despite their obvious physical advantage they rarely actively hunt humans.

Most grizzly bear attacks are the result of a bear being startled at very close range, especially if it has a food supply to protect, or of female grizzlies protecting their offspring. Making matters worse is the fact that intensive human use of grizzly habitat coincides with the seasonal movement of grizzly bears.

Adverse conditioning using rubber bullets, foul-smelling chemicals, or acoustic deterrent devices attempt to condition bears to associate humans with unpleasant things, but are ineffective when bears have already learned to positively associate humans with food.

Such bears are either translocated or killed because they pose a threat to humans. The grizzly bear is listed as threatened in the contiguous United States and endangered in parts of Canada. In May 2002, the Canadian Species at Risk Act listed the prairie grizzly bear population as extinct in Canada.

As of 2002, grizzly bears were listed as a special concern under the COSEWIC registry and considered threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A recovery plan released by the provincial government in March 2008 indicated that the grizzly population is lower than previously believed.

In 2010, the provincial government officially listed its population of approximately 700 grizzlies as threatened. Environment Canada considers the grizzly bear a special species, as it is particularly sensitive to human activities and natural threats.

In Alberta and British Columbia, the species is considered endangered. In 2008, it was estimated that there were 16,014 grizzly bears in the British Columbia population, which was lower than previously estimated due to improvements in population modeling.