This 2019 photo shows a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (Joe Lieb/USFWS via AP, file)

This 2019 photo shows a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (Joe Lieb/USFWS via AP, file)

Scientists: Grizzlies expand turf but still need protection

About 1,900 grizzly bears live in the Northern Rockies of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington.

By Matthew Brown / Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — Grizzly bears are slowly expanding the turf where they roam in parts of the northern Rocky Mountains but need continued protections, according to government scientists who concluded that no other areas of the country would be suitable for reintroducing the fearsome predators.

The Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday released its first assessment in almost a decade about the status of grizzly bears in the contiguous U.S. The bruins are shielded from hunting as a threatened species except in Alaska.

Grizzly populations grew over the past 10 years in two areas — the Yellowstone region of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, with more than 700 bears; and around Glacier National Park in Montana, which is home to more than 1,000 of the animals.

Grizzly numbers remain low in other parts of the Northern Rockies, and scientists said their focus is on bolstering those populations rather than reintroducing them elsewhere in the country.

The bears now occupy about 6% of their historical range, up from 2% of that range in 1975.

Conservationists and some university scientists have pushed to return bears to areas including Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and California’s Sierra Nevada.

The 368-page assessment makes no recommendation on the topic, but scientists looked at the possibility of bears in more areas as part of an examination of their remaining habitat.

That analysis showed grizzlies would be unable to sustain themselves in the San Juans, the Sierra Nevada or two other areas that officials examined — Utah’s Uinta Mountains and New Mexico’s Mongollon Mountains.

“They were looking for areas that could sustain grizzly bears as opposed to areas that would continuously need for humans to drop bears in there,” said Hilary Cooley, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator.

In each case, officials said, bears would face the same challenge: not enough protected public lands, high densities of humans and little chance of connecting with other bears populations to maintain healthy populations.

Tens of thousands of grizzlies once populated western North America before hunting, trapping and habitat loss wiped out most by the early 1900s. The bears were last seen in California in the 1920s and the last known grizzly in Colorado was killed by an elk hunter in 1979.

Grizzly bears have been protected as a threatened species in the contiguous U.S. since 1975, allowing a slow recovery in a handful of areas. An estimated 1,900 live in the Northern Rockies of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington state.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2019 in a bid to force officials to consider restoring grizzlies to parts of California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Oregon. A U.S. District judge ruled last year that the government was not compelled to draft recovery plans for the bears in new areas.

Protections for bears in the Yellowstone region were lifted under President Donald Trump but later restored under a court order just as Idaho and Wyoming prepared to hold public hunts for grizzlies for the first time in decades.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, co-sponsored legislation to increase protections for bears while she was a member of Congress. She declined to say how she would approach the issue when questioned during her February confirmation hearings.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2014, file photo, Billy Frank Jr. poses for a photo near Frank's Landing on the Nisqually River in Nisqually, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, signed a measure that starts the process of honoring the late Frank, a Nisqually tribal member who championed treaty rights and protecting the environment, with a statue at the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Statue of Native American leader step closer to U.S. Capitol

Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal member, was a champion of treaty rights and the environment.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman looks up at a video monitor in a hallway as he arrives for a session of Thurston County Superior Court, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Olympia, Wash. Eyman, who ran initiative campaigns across Washington for decades, will no longer be allowed to have any financial control over political committees, under a ruling from Superior Court Judge James Dixon Wednesday that blasted Eyman for using donor's contributions to line his own pocket. Eyman was also told to pay more than $2.5 million in penalties. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ouch: Judge orders Tim Eyman to pay state’s $2.9M legal tab

In February, a judge found that the serial initiative promoter repeatedly violated campaign finance laws.

Mount Vernon woman found guilty of plot to kill ex-husband

She tried to convince her child to kill his father by adding rat poison to his food and drink.

State Senate OKs bill to reinstate drug possession penalties

But instead of a felony, those instances would now be treated as a gross misdemeanor.

Inslee signs measure addressing health provider PPE costs

The $6.57 per patient reimbursements will last for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters lit a portable bathroom on fire in downtown Portland, Ore., Friday, April 16, 2021. Police in Portland, Oregon, said Saturday they arrested four people after declaring a riot Friday night when protesters smashed windows, burglarized businesses and set multiple fires during demonstrations that started after police fatally shot a man while responding to reports of a person with a gun. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)
Police ask for help identifying Portland, Oregon, rioters

Police declared a riot Friday night during demonstrations after officers fatally shot a man.

Package funding U.S. 2 trestle, Monroe bypass on the move

A $17.8 billion plan dealing with highways, ferries and transit has cleared the state Senate transportation panel.

FILE - In this July 25, 2020, file photo, police pepper spray protesters, near Seattle Central College in Seattle, during a march and protest in support of Black Lives Matter. Washington state lawmakers are wrapping up their work on an ambitious package of police accountability legislation. There are bills that curb police tactics and equipment, restricting the use of tear gas, chokeholds and neck restraints and banning no-knock warrants; that create an independent office to review the use of deadly force by police; that require officers to intervene if their colleagues engage in deadly force; and that make it easier to decertify officers for bad acts. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Slew of police reform bills headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk

One of the bills will require officers to intervene if their colleagues engage in excessive force.

A gray whale appears to have developed an infection after being darted with a satellite tracking tag. (NOAA Fisheries)
Gray whale could be sick from tracking tag

Experts are concerned over possible infections related to the animal’s tagging site.

FILE - In this May 26, 2020, file photo, a sign at the headquarters for the Washington state Employment Security Department is shown at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington state's rush to get unemployment benefits to residents who lost jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak left it vulnerable to criminals who made off with hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Audit: Unemployment fraud likely higher than $647 million

The auditor’s office indicated that the total amount stolen in Washington state could exceed $1 billion.

State Senate approves expansion of low-income tax credit

The bill passed the Democratic-led chamber on a bipartisan 47-2 vote and now heads back to the House.

FILE - In this May 4, 2020, file photo, an Asian giant hornet from Japan is held on a pin by Sven Spichiger, an entomologist with the Washington state Dept. of Agriculture in Olympia, Wash. Scientists in the U.S. and Canada are opening new fronts in the war against the so-called murder hornets as the giant insects begin establishing nests this spring. The scientists said Wednesday, March 17, 2021, the battle to prevent the apex predators from establishing a foothold in North America is being fought mostly in Whatcom County, Washington and the nearby Fraser Valley of British Columbia, where the hornets have been spotted in recent years. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Officials seek new tools to combat invasive giant hornets

One new rule would allow the state to declare an “infested site” for 20 meters around a nest.