© Terry Tollefsbol
At a Glance
The grizzly bear has a distinctive hump on its shoulders, a concave face and long claws. Their coloration is usually darkish brown with white tips on their backs and shoulders that give them a “grizzled” appearance. They live solitary lives except during breeding, cub rearing, and in areas with a super-abundant food supply such as salmon streams. Grizzly bears hibernate during the winter for 5-8 months.
Range: 5 recovery areas: Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirks and North Cascades. This represents less than 2% of historic range in the lower 48 states.
Habitat Type: Varied, from dense forests to open grasslands.
Primary Diet: Omnivorous; grasses, sedges, roots, berries, seeds, insects, fish, mammals and carrion.
Estimated Population: 1,200 to 1,400.
States with Current Habitat
Grizzly bears reproduce slowly. Females may not have their first litter until they are 6 years of age. Therefore, recovery depends greatly on minimizing female mortality. This requires keeping them safely away from humans, our trash and our livestock because human-caused mortality is the number one threat to grizzly bears. This is why they survived modern human encroachment in the contiguous U.S. only in the most remote and rugged mountainous areas, though they once were common across much of the western mountains and plains.
Threats related to global warming
Global warming appears to be exacerbating human-caused grizzly bear mortalities. Grizzly bears are denning later in the fall due to global warming. This keeps them at risk from human-caused mortality for additional weeks during a time of year when grizzlies and hunters overlap. Grizzly deaths due to human self-defense often result.
Global warming is also causing some natural grizzly bear food resources to decline, forcing grizzlies to seek alternative foods. For example, Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) seeds are a food resource for grizzly bears in some areas, including Yellowstone. Global warming has led to an increase in whitebark pine blister rust as well as an increase in competing species such as Douglas fir in higher elevations. As whitebark pine and other natural grizzly food resources decline due to global warming, grizzlies may shift from remote high elevation areas to lower elevation human-populated areas, looking for alternative foods. Here, they often encounter humans and our garbage, food and livestock. This causes bears to become conditioned to humans; these human-conditioned bears are often removed or killed by wildlife managers due to safety concerns.
Defenders of Wildlife works with people who live, work and recreate in grizzly habitat to reduce the causes of grizzly-human conflicts and thereby minimize grizzly bear mortalities. Through Defenders' Grizzly Proactive Fund, they help purchase bear-resistant garbage containers and fence community dumps; build electric fencing for calving and sheep bedding grounds and bee yards; and install food lockers and food hanging poles in campsites. Also, through Defenders' Grizzly Compensation Trust, they reimburse livestock owners for economic losses due to grizzly bear depredations. This helps to build local tolerance for grizzly bears, especially as they continue to expand into new territories. Defenders is also working with Congress and the Obama administration to enact federal legislation that will result in the development and implementation of a national strategy to assist wildlife, including grizzly bears, adapt to the impacts of global warming, and provide dedicated funding from cap-and-trade revenues for implementing the wildlife adaptation strategy.