You may have read that the Department of the Interior has recently removed the Grizzly Bear population in Yellowstone National Park from the Endangered Species list. There are now about 750 Grizzlies (a North American subspecies of Brown Bear) in Yellowstone, and this is thought to be enough. It probably is, especially if you are planning to camp out at altitude.
As an innocent high school student camping in Yellowstone with three ignorant friends and protected only by summer weight sleeping bags, my companions and I were trod upon by a family of black bears. With a weight range from the size of a large dog up to 500 pounds, compared to the Grizzly sometimes up to 1,500, the black bear intrusion was nevertheless sufficiently terrifying. Three of us spent the rest of the night in the back of a 1950 Chevy station wagon. The third survived by ignoring the danger, no doubt comforted by National Park Service posters then showing friendly families feeding treats to black bears from the windows of their Oldsmobiles and Desotos.
So I do understand some ambivalence among those few who live in proximity to Grizzlies. Lewis (or was it Clark) referred to them as “fear inspiring,” and they were at one time named as Ursus Horriblis. Over the past 20 years the North American rate of deaths by Grizzly has been a little more than one per annum -- a bit less than death by shark in American waters. Most were innocent hikers and campers, one a filmmaker whose attacker had an important role in his movies.
Grizzlies came to North America from Asia about 35,000 years before Homo Sapiens and spread into the future 48 contiguous states at about the time that homo sapiens did. In time they occupied most of what are now the 48, reaching as far as the Western borders of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They inhabited most of Texas, even a bit of Arkansas, and took a big bite out of the map of Mexico.
The problem now is that while Yellowstone is a friendly island for Grizzlies, right outside of Yellowstone’s boundaries things are otherwise. The State of Wyoming is considering allowing the “trophy hunting” of the fuzzy, and -- at a distance -- loveable species. If Grizzly populations were spread around more evenly, and if you could live with the guilt of executing one of these beautiful creatures for fun or in pursuit of the demands of narcissism, limiting their numbers might be acceptable. But the numbers are discouraging. 750 Grizzlies represent nearly half of the total population of Grizzlies in the 48 states, down from 50,000.
So I am rooting for the return of the grizzlies to a National Park near you.
Yours from the field,
Grizzly Bears and all of their bear friends and relations can be found on our forthcoming app, the Fieldstone Guide to Mammals, which will be released next month. Join our mailing list and we will let you know when it's available. (We will never sell or share your information.)