Top Ten Wildlife Areas We Love (and Would Hate to Lose)
|A grizzly sow nuzzles her cubs (USFWS/Larry Aumiller)|
Why We Love It:
This ain't no huggable teddy bear: weighing up to 400 pounds and living over 20 years, with powerful, four-inch-long claws and a jaw that could snap a tree trunk, the grizzly has fascinated wildlife aficionados since Lewis and Clark first found a griz family in Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains. Grizzlies are actually a subspecies of the brown bear, but got their name for silver-gray highlights on their fur, giving them a "grizzled" appearance.
Where It's Happiest:
Grizzlies prefer to live in open areas, such as tundra or temperate forests, so that they can aggressively defend themselves if attacked. While males are solitary, mother grizzlies give birth to one to five cubs each January, and will tend, discipline, and defend their cubs until they mature. Leaving their dens in March or April, grizzlies move to lower elevations where food is more plentiful. The bears are omnivorous, and during summer will eat nearly 50 pounds of fish, small mammals, carrion, roots, leaves, and other plant material per day in preparation for winter.
The Cold, Hard Numbers:
Officially considered "threatened," about 1,200 bears exist across the mountainous regions of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Some 31,700 live in Alaska. Still, populations are growing steadily. "Grizzlies hit a low point in the '30s and '40s," says Chris Servheen, grizzly recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). "Populations then were only a fraction of what they are now.
Who's to Blame:
Hunting and trapping decimated bear numbers. Though outlawed in 1975 when grizzlies were listed as threatened, some poaching of the animals continues. Bear organs reportedly fetch high prices in Asia, where they are used in traditional medicine. Human encroachment into wild areas has also affected grizzlies, whose territory can cover 1,000 square miles.
When It's Gone:
Grizzly bears are an emblem of our natural heritage. This high-profile hunter figures prominently in the early writings of America's great naturalists such as John Muir, Bob Marshall, and Lewis and Clark. If grizzlies were destroyed, America would lose one of its most visible wilderness symbols.
Signs of Life:
Populations in Yellowstone and western Montana remain strong, while the USFWS has a plan to reintroduce the bear to Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot Mountains. Unfortunately, though, the Bush administration shelved that plan three years ago.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication