Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
March 25, 2000 - Issue 06

Bear Facts
by Vicki Lockard from various sources

FWS plan puts grizzlies under the Gun!
By Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Echosystem Project

As the Great Bear snoozes, blanketed by snow in the heart of the Northern Rockies, the debate over its future continues to burn. The battle over grizzly protection has just flared up again with the March 1st release of the draft Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Yellowstone Area (CS).

This document represents one of the last pieces of the puzzle that has to be in place before the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) can remove Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone grizzly bear (delisting). The CS also sets standards for bear and habitat protection in a post-delisting world. Since the Great Bear is an ecological barometer for the health of the ecosystems of the West, grizzly delisting is an important issue for other wildlife too, casting a long shadow over the future of other species such as elk, native trout, bighorn sheep and wolves.

The good news is that Americans care deeply about protecting the grizzly bear as evidenced in FWS's recent public comment period on habitat protection, the Draft Habitat-Based Recovery Criteria for the Yellowstone Ecosystem. More than 95% of nearly 17,000 respondents said they want better protection for the bear and its habitat, including wildlife supporters in all 50 states and a few foreign countries. Thanks to these comments, conservationists appear to have successfully pushed back the timeline on when the bear will be delisted. However, political pressure to delist continues and that timeline could change quickly.

Federal agencies and states have pursued premature delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly as a way to use the Great Bear to demonstrate "success" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Still, grizzly experts are worried about the implications of escalating private land development in bear habitat and uncertainty about the key food sources such as white bark pine, imperiled by an introduced disease, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which is threatened by whirling disease and introduced Lake trout in Yellowstone Lake.

Pressure by some elected officials is fierce to delist the grizzly and facilitate exploitation of public wildlands. It is critical that the CS truly protect bears and key bear habitat into the future. Your voice for the bear, and the wildland ecosystems it represents, is desperately needed - please express your concerns at a public meeting (listed below) or submit written comments by May 30, 2000.


The FWS recently scheduled open house meetings in your area. These sessions will be held to provide information, answer questions and gather comments on the newly released Conservation Strategy. In order to keep the pressure on the agency to increase safeguards for the bear we will need to have a strong pro-bear presence at these meetings!

  • March 21 from 4:00 - 9:00 p.m. in Cody, Wyoming, at the Holiday Inn;
  • March 23 from 4:00 - 9:00 p.m. in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at the Ranch Inn;
  • March 28 from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. in Bozeman, Montana, Location T.B.A.
  • April 6 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. in Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the Inn at Cavanaugh's

Public comments on the Conservation Strategy should be received by the Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University Hall, Room 309, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812 or electronically mailed to by May 30, 2000.

If you can't attend a meeting, then please take a minute today to write the agency. Tell the Fish and Wildlife Service that the Conservation Strategy falls short of protecting grizzly bear habitat for the long-term. Ask the agency to:

  • Protect sufficient habitat. The Recovery Area boundaries must be changed to include areas currently used by bears as well as areas vitally important for food and habitat. Boundaries must be based on the needs of bears, not a desire to open more lands to industrial development.

  • Strike the plan's loopholes that allow for destruction of thousands of acres of bear habitat within the recovery zone. One such loophole in the current document allows for a one percent loss of much of the remaining bear habitat.

  • Protect lifelines. Wildlife corridors between Yellowstone and Canada are vital to the long-term survival of grizzlies in the lower-48 states. Unfortunately, the government's plan proposes only to "study" these linkages but provides no guaranteed protection, even on an interim basis. The plan should call for action, not more study.

  • Restore degraded habitat. The current plan identifies important grizzly bear areas where habitat is degraded below acceptable levels. However, it does not set any goals or timelines that agencies must meet to restore this degraded habitat-it only states these areas need "improvement." The Fish and Wildlife Service should require that these problem areas be brought up to standards that will sustain bears.

  • Provide real standards for motorized access in grizzly habitat. Governmental standards are based on an arbitrary acceptance of 1998 road levels, not on the demonstrated needs of grizzlies and other wildlife.

To receive a copy of the draft Conservation Strategy for the Yellowstone grizzly bear, contact Laird Robinson of the Forest Service in Missoula at 406-329-3434. The draft Conservation Strategy is also available via the Internet at

David J. Ellenberger,,Media and Outreach Coordinator,
Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project
234 E. Mendenhall, Bozeman, MT 59715
(406) 582-8365
(406) 582-9417 fax

"Protecting wild grizzlies in the lower-48, for our families, for our future."

Fight Grizzly Delisting:
Send Electronic Comments to the USFWS for the Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Yellowstone Area.
Send a Grizzly Postcard


Why is Grizzly is a Threatened Species?

The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is one of the largest North American land mammals. Its historic range covered much of North America -- from the mid-plains westward to California and from central Mexico north to Canada and Alaska. Males stand about 7 feet tall and weigh from 300 to 600 pounds. Females are smaller, usually weighing 200 to 400 pounds. The thick fur varies from light brown to nearly black and sometimes looks frosty, hence the name "grizzly." Except for mating and caring for the young, grizzly bears lead solitary lives, spending most of their time foraging for food. They are North America's largest omnivores, feeding on green vegetation, wild fruits and berries, insects, carrion, as well as smaller mammals. Salmon are an important food for grizzly bears along the west coast of Canada and in Alaska.

Grizzly bears have the second slowest reproductive rate of all North American mammals (muskox have the slowest), making it harder for them to rebound from threats to their survival. Females do not reach maturity until they are 4 to 9 years old, and generally give birth to two cubs every three years. About half of all cubs do not live to reach breeding age. Between 1800 and 1975, grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states decreased from estimates of more than 50,000 to less than 1,000. They can now only be found in areas of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington. Habitat degradation, livestock depredation control, and protection of human life are the leading causes of the species' decline.

In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Recovery of the species involves establishing prospering grizzly populations in the areas where the bears existed in 1975 and in areas that remain capable of supporting viable grizzly bear populations. The Recovery Plan focuses on these six ecosystems: Northern Cascades, Selkirk Mountains, Cabinet Yaak, North Continental Divide, Selway Bitterroot, and Yellowstone.

Print and color these pictures of the Grizzly

Griz Head

Griz Grins

Griz In a Tree

Brown Bear or Grizzly?

Both brown and grizzly bears are the same bear, Ursus arctos. There has been a tendency in North America to call the brown bear which lives in the interior, a grizzly, to distinguish it from the brown bears which live in coastal areas. The name "grizzly" comes from the silver tipped grizzled hairs that these brown bears develop as they get older. NOTE: This is also the White Bear of Dakota tradition.

The important thing is that whether someone calls it a brown bear or a grizzly bear, it is the same bear. It also does not matter whether it lives, in Asia, Europe or North America. We are always talking about the same bear!

This map shows the habitat of the Brown Bear


Common Errors & Myths Found in Bear Literature


BEAR SPECIES: There are 8 bear species. The Giant Panda IS a bear, NOT a raccoon. The 8 species are: Brown Bear (Grizzly, Alaskan, Brown, European, Kodiak), Black Bear, Polar Bear, Spectacled Bear, Sloth Bear, Asiatic Black Bear, Giant Panda, Sun Bear.


TREE CLIMBING: The polar bear and adult brown bears (grizzlies) cannot climb trees. The other six species can.(In a pinch adult grizzlies may use their teeth and legs/paws to climb trees - e.g. to haul somebody out!).

EYESIGHT: Bear's eyesight is poorer than human's, but not "poor". Their hearing and sense of smell are excellent!

BEARS CAN'T RUN DOWNHILL: False. Bears are agile and can run downhill easily and quickly.

BEARS ARE BIG AND SLOW: False. Bears are extremely agile and can run at high speeds over short distances (From standing still, they can run 10 m./sec.)

HIBERNATION: Bear's body temperature does not drop dramatically as other hibernating animals and therefore are not true hibernators. Heart rate drops 8 - 11 beats from 98 per minute. With true hibernators, both body temperature and heart rate drop significantly.


BEARS ARE CARNIVOROUS: False. Ninety percent (population specific) of the bear's diet contains vegetable matter. (It is true that bears are classed as carnivores, but they are omnivorous (mixed diet) in their feeding habits.)

FOOD SELECTION: Bears do NOT eat ANYTHING! They eat high protein, high energy, high fat, low fiber. Bears are very selective - very similar to people. (No secondary digestive structure like a deer, or even something akin to rabbits and horses. Bears cannot digest coarse forage)


DENNING: Bears do not den in large caves because they are too wet and cold. Black bears and grizzlies may den in rock cavities near the ground surface. (There are constant references to caves in much of the literature).

GARBAGE BEARS ARE TAME: False. Garbage or spoiled bears pose the most hazardous threat to public safety.

BLACK BEARS AREN'T DANGEROUS: False. Black bears are as wild and unpredictable as any other member of the bear family.

BEARS STAND UP ON THEIR HIND LEGS TO GET A BETTER VIEW: Not quite right - bears do this to get a better scent.

BEARS HAVE TERRITORIES: False. Bears have HOME RANGES which can and do overlap. (By definition territories are exclusive.)

BEAR MARKING ON TREES IS TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOR: False. Bears mark trees to signal each other, but not to express territoriality.

BEARS ARE FEROCIOUS PREDATORS: False. Bears are predatory, particularly on young calves, fawns and salmon, but are normally afraid of humans and will not attack without provocation.

Statements 4, 5, 7, 10, and 11 are taken from THE BEAR FACTS, Yukon Wildlife Branch, Dispelling the Myths.
Grizzlies in the Wild

Take a quiz, work a puzzle and learn about the Grizzly
Grizzly Education

The Bear Den


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