BILLINGS, Mont. — Grizzly bears are slowly expanding the turf where they roam in parts of the northern Rocky Mountains but need continued protection. According to government scientists who concluded that no other country areas would be suitable for reintroducing the fearsome predators.
On Wednesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service 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 ten years in 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 includingColorado’ss San Juan Mountains andCalifornia’ss 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 the Uinta Mountains and NewMexico’ss Mogollon Mountains.”They were looking for places 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 WildlifeService’ss 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 people.