Current status of threatened grizzly bear populations and their recovery
In North America, grizzly bears previously ranged from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as the western shores of Hudson Bay. When Lewis and Clark explored the West in the early 1800s, an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears roamed between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains, across vast stretches of open and unpopulated land. However, when pioneers moved in, bears were persecuted and their numbers and range drastically declined. As European settlement expanded over the next hundred years, towns and cities sprung up, and habitat for these large omnivores–along with their numbers–shrunk drastically. Today, with the western United States inhabited by millions of Americans, only a few small corners of grizzly country remain, supporting about 1,200 – 1,400 wild grizzly bears. Of 37 grizzly populations present in 1922, 31 were extirpated by 1975.
In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the Lower 48 States under the Endangered Species Act, placing the species under federal protection. Today, grizzly bear distribution is primarily within but not limited to the areas identified as “Recovery Ecosystems”
- North Cascades Ecosystem of north central Washington (9,500 mi2) at less than 20 bears. This ecosystem is administered by the North Cascades Ecosystem Subcommittee.
- Selkirk Ecosystem of northern Idaho, northeastern Washington, and southeastern British Columbia (2,200 mi 2) at approximately 70 to 80 bears including the portion of the range in British Columbia. This ecosystem is administered by the Selkirk/Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystems Subcommittee.
- Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem of northwest Montana and northern Idaho (2,600 sq. mi) 2012 population was estimated at 45 bears. This ecosystem is administered by the Selkirk/Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystems Subcommittee.
- Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of north central Montana (9,600 mi2) has approximately 765 bears. This ecosystem is administered by the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Subcommittee.
- Bitterroot Ecosystem in the Bitterroot Mountains of east central Idaho and western Montana (5,600 mi2), however this area does not contain any grizzly bears at this time. This ecosystem is administered by the Bitterroot Ecosystem Subcommittee.
- Yellowstone Ecosystem in northwest Wyoming, eastern Idaho, and southwest Montana (9,200 mi2) at more than 650 bears. This ecosystem is administered by the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee.
(Note: the San Juan Mountains of Colorado also were identified as an area of possible grizzly bear occurrence, but no evidence of grizzly bears has been found in the San Juan Mountains since a bear was killed there in 1979.)
For more information on recovery in each of these ecosystems, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear web pages.