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Yellowstone-Area Grizzlies on List of Top Ten Most Isolated Species

Grizzly bear. Credit: Kim Keating/U.S. Geological Survey
Grizzly bear. Credit: Kim Keating/U.S. Geological Survey
November 20, 2015

CASPER, Wyo. - The grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone region now have the dubious distinction of being one of the top 10 most isolated species in America.

A new report called "No Room to Roam: 10 American Species in Need of Connectivity" was released Wednesday by the nonprofit Endangered Species Coalition. The report put the Greater Yellowstone grizzlies on the list because only about 600 to 800 are left - and the populations are separated by hundreds of miles.

Bonnie Rice, the Sierra Club's senior representative for Yellowstone and the Northern Rockies, said they need to interbreed to improve genetic diversity.

"These bears are isolated from any other population, which we don't feel bodes well for the long-term health of the population," she said. "We really need natural connectivity between grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone and other populations in northern Montana and the northern Continental Divide."

The report said Idaho and Washington state are home to other, smaller grizzly populations.

Complicating matters, state grizzly bear managers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have been pressing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take the Yellowstone-area grizzly off the endangered species list. The states want to institute a bear hunt, but Rice disagrees with that approach, saying that given all the threats these bears face, they should not be hunted for sport. She added that state managers need to make safe passage between recovery areas a priority.

"We need more protections in those linkage areas between the recovery areas," she said. "We would need the state to manage for that if these bears are delisted."

The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release a proposal to delist the Yellowstone-area grizzly sometime next year.

The report is online at endangered.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - WY