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.” These ecosystems, each containing a recovery zone, were identified in the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan and thought to support grizzly bears at the time of listing.

There are six recovery ecosystems for grizzly bears in the Lower 48 States:

(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.