Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bring bears to the Bitterroots

Posted on Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 2:21 PM

It's hard to argue with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has rebounded in a huge way since the 1970s (see "Bearing it all," March 24, 2011). Its assessment seems to be based on a short-term perspective, though. Until a link is established connecting the Yellowstone grizzlies to the populations in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Canada, it seems to me the long-term prospects of Yellowstone's grizzly bears will always be in jeopardy.

Currently, the Yellowstone grizzly population—however healthy and numerous—lives on an unsustainable genetic island. Its habitat is cut off from the nearest grizzly population in the Scapegoat Wilderness by nearly 200 miles.

The Bitterroot ecosystem (consisting of both the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness areas) has historically supported a healthy grizzly population. Not only could the Bitterroot Mountains support up to 300 grizzlies, they offer the most practical habitat to provide the crucial genetic link for Yellowstone's grizzlies.

Until a population of grizzly bears resides in the Bitterroots, ensuring genetic diversity across the Northern Rockies, I just can't see the Yellow-stone grizzly bear population as viable in the long term.

Ryan Norton


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