By Alia Wilson
As of Monday, Apr. 30, grizzly bears have been taken off the list of threatened species, and are no longer under the protective wing of the Endangered Species Act. The Yellowstone National Park is now at carrying capacity, and the increasing bear population’s expansion into surrounding areas is a growing concern.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, many of the species have sauntered into Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, increasing the bear population from an estimated 200 in 1975 to about 500 today. The bears now occupy over 30,000 square kilometers of space.
Mark Bruscino, bear management supervisor at the Wyoming Fish and Game Department, said that the de-listing may be considered a step backward, but assures opposing voices that nothing will change regarding bear management.
“We are strongly committed to maintaining a recovered bear population,” Bruscino said. “About $800,000 a year goes to protect them and we’ll continue to do so.”
Monetary funds for the state will not be compromised, Bruscino explained, now that the federal government is not responsible for the management of the grizzlies.
Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone bear management specialist, says that with three million visitors each year, the park has a noticeably low number of conflicts. With the bears now moving back into areas they had originally occupied, he hopes this will continue to be the case.
“We had maybe half a dozen reported conflicts this past year,” Gunther said. “Once every five years we’ll get a bear that gets into trouble and we’ll have to remove them, but at a higher density, they tend to regulate themselves.”
The next step of precaution for the state-level agencies that border the park is public education.
Gregg Losinski, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional conservation educator, explained that bear management solutions are going to have to be practical and people-friendly.
“We need to have as many mechanisms as possible in place to monitor bears,” Losinski said. “We need to have solutions that are everyday solutions, that people are willing to pay for.”
Losinski explained that management has worked out well within the park because no one lives there. Once the bears get outside of the recovery zone, it is up to the surrounding states to come up with innovative ways to prepare and protect residents from potential conflict.
Currently, “bear-proof” garbage bins and dumpsters, electric fences, food-storing boxes and hanging poles are just some of the solutions in use in bear country.
Although Yellowstone has reached carrying capacity, grizzly recovery is still considered to be a great accomplishment.
Minette Johnson, Northern Rockies representative of the Defenders of Wildlife, said that the agencies involved have done an excellent job of working together to achieve goals of recovery.
“[The numbers] show that the recovery was a success, but it also shows how slowly it takes the bears to reproduce,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, it will be up to the public to learn to respect the growing population of bears and to utilize the tools necessary to protect themselves from potential harm.