Climate Change and Unbridled Industrialization Could Push an Icon of the American West Back to the Brink of Extinction
In the early 1800s, as many as 100,000 grizzly bears roamed the western United States. But after centuries of hunting and habitat destruction, the number of grizzlies in the American West has plummeted to about 1,500. In the wake of a tough legal battle, Yellowstone grizzly bears are once again protected under the Endangered Species Act. But with the loss of key food sources such as whitebark pine seeds as a result of global warming and as development takes a mounting toll on grizzly habitat, Yellowstone's iconic grizzlies face an uncertain future.
Safeguarding Yellowstone's Last Grizzlies
In 1975, grizzly bears had nearly disappeared from Yellowstone and the lower 48 states. That year, the bear was given Endangered Species Act protection, and a few years later, a rebound began. Today, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is home to between 500 and 600 grizzlies -- a significant achievement. However, with increasing rural sprawl and energy development -- coupled with the debilitating impacts of a warming climate -- the long-term future of the Yellowstone grizzly bear is at risk.
In and around Yellowstone, grizzlies rely on fatty whitebark pine seeds for nourishment before their yearly hibernation. Yet whitebark pine forests are being decimated throughout their range by an array of threats -- including mountain pine beetles, a non-native pathogen blister rust and drought. These trees, which have been stressed for decades, are vulnerable to attacks by mountain pine beetles and blister rust. Researchers worry that the trees are on the verge of extinction. In response, NRDC petitioned in December 2008 to have whitebark pine trees protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Some wildlife biologists believe that in order for Yellowstone grizzlies to adapt to changing conditions, the population must at least double in size to ensure a full recovery. Additional habitat will also be needed to allow grizzlies opportunities to compensate for the loss of food sources inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. Nevertheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stripped them of federal protection in 2007. Two years later, a lawsuit succeeded in restoring the critical federal safeguards of the Endangered Species Act. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy concluded that the Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to adequately take into account the impact of whitebark pine declines on the grizzly bear and that the states had failed put into place adequate regulatory mechanisms to protect the bears.
Articles from onearth.org about whitebark pine.
- Death at High Altitude
- posted by Scott Dodd, 11/16/09
- How can a beetle kill a grizzly bear? By wiping out one of its most important food sources. In the northern ...
- An Endangered Tree
- posted by Scott Dodd, 10/8/09
- Can a tree be an endangered species? Dr. Sylvia Fallon, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist with ...
- Invasion of the Pine Beetles
- posted by Scott Dodd, 10/5/09
- From the air above Yellowstone National Park, the view has turned a sickly gray. Warmer temperatures ...
- NRDC: The Bear Minimum
- Bear Versus Beetle
last revised 2/18/2010