Ursos arctos horribilis
"It was verry large and a turrible lookiing animal, which we found verry hard to kill."
William Clark 20 October 1804
The Grizzly bear has been extirpated by the human species in all but three or four states south of Canada.
Within the lower forty-eight states and Mexico, the Grizzly bears historic range began at the eastern edge of the Great Plains in about the longitude of the one-hundredth meridian sweeping westward to the Pacific coast. To the south, their range extended into northern Lower California and to Durango, Mexico. Moving northward beyond the contiguous states, grizzlies were common in British Columbia and western Alberta, Canada, Yukon, and Northwest Territories, and on into the southern central parts of the Alaskan Peninsula and the Arctic coast.
Grizzlies were common across most of North Dakota. In the mid nineteenth century they were plentiful in Nebraska and Kansas. By 1900 the grizzly bear was extinct in these states. Humans eradicated almost 100,000 Grizzlies in the western United States between 1850 and 1920.
The last documented Grizzly bear was killed:
In Texas 1890
In New Mexico 1917 ( one of the last grizzlies)
In California 1922
In Oregon 1931
In Arizona 1935
In Colorado 1979
The Grizzly bear's current range is less than 1% of its historic range in the lower forty-eight states. They can be found in the Rocky Mountain region in the states of Montana and Wyoming. Some wander into Idaho and on rare occasions on into Washington. Grizzlies that live within Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks are somewhat protected
A healthy habitat for Grizzly bears could be found in dense forests interspersed with open meadows, rivers, and lakes in mountainous areas with lots of open rugged country and along the western coast. A habitat devoid of logging, energy exploration, mining operations, roads, 0ff-road vehicles, and intolerant humans who come to recreate and build residential developments, raise livestock and grow crops.
Protected habitats have an umbrella effect in that what is good for the grizzlies is also beneficial to harlequin ducks, bull and cutthroat trout, lynx, pine martens, wolverines, mountain caribou, great gray owls, and gray wolf , just to name a few species. Threatened plant life such as water howellia also flourishes when areas are protected from logging, mining, road building, and the drainage of wetlands.
Grizzly bears must roam over vast areas searching for food with a high nutrient content in order to build up their fat reserve to get them through a long winter's hibernation. In spring they feast on cutthroat trout, which are indigenous to Yellowstone Lake and are being threatened by exotic lake trout. In the summer months grizzlies will climb in the mountains above the timberline (to elevations above 10,000 ft.) in search of army cutworm moths. These moths migrate to this tundra in search of sub alpine wildflowers that provide nectar, their food source. Grizzly bears will eat thousands of these moths. The army cutworm moth is itself threatened by pesticides used on its host plants in the valleys below and in the Plains states. Also global warming is taking its toll on the wildflowers above the timberline. In autumn another high nutrient food source is the white-bark pine nut. This food source has declined within Yellowstone Park since the forest fires of 1988. A disease known as blister rust is also stressing remaining trees in the forests within Yellowstone.
Berries, grasses, roots, tubers, sedges, ants, ladybugs, and meat from ungulates, and small mammals also provide nutrition for grizzly bears within the Rocky Mountain region. Along the coastline, salmon and other fish provide nutrient rich food sources.
For the most part Grizzlies live in solitude. Cubs ( and twins are common) may live with their mother for up to three years whilst she protects them fiercely from predators and teaches them how to forage for food. Grizzlies will wait to mate until five or six years of age and females will have litters only every three years. Life span for a grizzly in the wild varies from fifteen to thirty-four years.
Currently the Grizzly bear is protected under the Endangered Species Act. It is listed as threatened and endangered. There is some pressure by lobbyists representing oil and gas and livestock industries along with big game hunters and land developers to de-list the grizzly.
Gaining knowledge about this species hopefully will lead to empathy and tolerance and halt the impending extinction of the Grizzly bear from the lower forty-eight states.