Hiking in the Yukon. Image: Pat Morrow
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"I BELIEVE in connected landscapes; so connected that my children can walk from one point to another."
Chris Bunting, Y2Y Supporter since 2007

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Protecting Grizzly Bears through Connectivity Conservation

Whether or not Yellowstone’s grizzlies are delisted, connectivity is the priority for their long-term well-being throughout the Y2Y region.

On March 3, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released their proposal to remove Yellowstone’s grizzly bears from protection under the Endangered Species Act, prompting a media statement from Y2Y.

Can anything positive to be said about decreasing protections for a species that is still vulnerable and at vastly reduced historical numbers and distributions in the lower 48 U.S. States?

The good news is that over the last few decades, thanks to collaborative work by many agencies and partners on both sides of the border, including Y2Y, grizzly bear numbers have recovered substantially in Yellowstone and surrounding areas.

A hungry grizzly bear sizing up a tasty meal. Photo: Peter Mather.

This proposal for delisting could only have come about as a result of this significant recovery in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where grizzly bears continue to expand their numbers and range—a major achievement to be celebrated by all involved.

A lesser known story is that Y2Y and partners in the Cabinet Purcell Mountain Corridor partnership have also achieved significant progress in the trans-border region northwest of Yellowstone. Bear numbers have increased from a critical low of 10 up to 50 today, human-bear conflicts have declined, and core habitat and connectivity protection has measurably increased. The partners aim to increase this population even more, up to 100, and to help re-establish bears in the core protected areas of Idaho’s Salmon-Selway-Bitterroot region.

One of Yellowstone's grizzly bears, just out after the long winter hibernation. Photo: Stephen Legault.

Whether we’re looking at Greater Yellowstone or the Cabinet-Purcells, the long-term viability of grizzly bears throughout the contiguous United States ultimately hinges on reconnecting isolated populations with larger populations across the landscape, including those further north in Canada. Whether listed or not, connectivity is the priority for the long-term well-being of North America’s grizzly bears.

“With the delisting proposal now in hand, our next step is to review its science and conclusions to ensure it sets forth a pathway to delisting that does not undermine the next steps to continued grizzly bear recovery, including connecting currently isolated populations,” says Y2Y President and Chief Scientist Jodi Hilty.

History has shown that isolated grizzly bear populations are more likely to disappear over time if not reconnected with other populations throughout the Yellowstone to Yukon region.

Whatever the ultimate results of this delisting proposal, Y2Y will continue to be a strong advocate for grizzly bear conservation throughout the Yellowstone the Yukon region.

That means engaging with partners to undertake on-the-ground projects, such as increasing core habitat, promoting safe road crossings and encouraging co-existence between landowners, communities and wildlife—all tools that will protect and restore current and potential grizzly bear habitat, and facilitate their movement via wildlife corridors to ensure healthy populations over the long term.

These tangible on-the-ground efforts focus on the continuing the road for grizzly bear recovery—now and for the future.

A grizzly bear makes its way across a high alpine pass. Photo: Stephen Legault.
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