When you think of the grizzly, how do you feel? These magnificent and magnetic creatures represent something unique for each of us. Perhaps you’ve heard of mother grizzly 399. The most famous living bear on the planet, she happens to be a resident of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, calling the Jackson Hole and Teton area her home. At 26, she is one of the oldest grizzlies in the GYE and has given birth to 20 cubs, including a litter of four in the spring of 2022. Including grand-cubs, her descendants number at least 24 — evidence of the critical significance of a healthy female bear for the general population.
A short history lesson on one of the wildest and largest omnivores on earth. Historically, the grizzly’s range went south to Mexico, north to Alaska, east to the Mississippi River, and west to the Pacific Ocean. Each bear had a home territory covering hundreds of square miles. Prior to 1800, it is estimated that 50,000 grizzly bears were roaming in their original range in the lower 48. But they were seen as a threat by settlers to the West — between 1850 and 1970, the grizzly was eliminated from 98 percent of its original range. By the mid-1970s, fewer than 1,000 grizzlies were left, with just 136 in the Yellowstone region.
What saved them was the creation of the Endangered Species Act which was finally passed in 1973, with the grizzly listed in 1975. Today, the grizzly population is estimated at around 2,000 in the lower 48, and 750 in the central areas of the GYE. However, they inhabit just 2% of their original range, with only five main recovery areas.
The grizzly remains under threat by humans, some of whom are pushing for their removal from Endangered Species Act protections to restore sport hunting seasons. The grizzly needs to survive — and flourish — to sustain the overall health of the ecosystems they inhabit. What’s good for grizzlies is good for 230 other native mammals and birds. They are part of a larger whole, and to thrive, they must re-expand their range beyond human-made physical and political boundaries.