Hiking in the Yukon. Image: Pat Morrow
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Study Affirms Y2Y Strategy in Cabinet Purcell Mountain Corridor

Current research shows that the Cabinet-Yaak area is one of the only viable linkage zones that allows Canadian and U.S. grizzly bear populations to remain connected.

This December grizzly bear researchers released preliminary findings that provide the first estimate of the numbers of grizzly bears roaming the Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Zone in Montana’s extreme northwest and northeast Idaho.

The study concluded there are at least 42 grizzly bears in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery zone, which include 38 grizzlies identified by their DNA, and four collared bears whose DNA didn’t appear in the samples. If researchers were to include visiting bears and grizzlies that died during the study, the figure could be as high as 54. (Click to read the fact sheet.)

Image courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey - Northern Divide Bear Project

“This study is important for two reasons,” says Y2Y U.S. Director of Science and Action, Rebecca Lloyd. “First, these figures confirm the original population estimates made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and affirm that the area’s recovery plan is on the right track. Second, they validate the importance of Y2Y’s work to ensure there is adequate grizzly bear habitat in the region.”

Conservation Work Based on the Need of Grizzly Bears

Since its inception 20 years ago, Y2Y has used grizzly bears as the main indicator species to develop its conservation strategy. Based on the needs of grizzlies, Y2Y divided the 2,000-mile-long Yellowstone to Yukon region into 11 core habitats and linkage zones.

Core habitat, such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem or the Central Canadian Rocky Mountains, is defined as a wild, intact and often protected landscape, large enough to support a self-sustaining grizzly bear populations of several hundred bears.

In contrast, linkage zones are landscapes used by grizzly bears (and other wildlife) to move between core habitats. Generally open to development, conservation efforts in these regions focus on restoring habitat and preventing absolute barriers to wildlife movement.

Yahk to Yaak Zone

"Both Y2Y and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believeY2Y’s Cabinet-Purcell Mountain Corridor to be critical habitat. Current research shows that the Cabinet-Yaak area is one of the only viable linkage zones that allows Canadian and U.S. grizzly bear populations to remain connected,” says Lloyd. “Now that we know this population is recovering, it justifies the work Y2Y is doing to make the landscape permeable.”

Keeping Grizzlies Moving

Last year, Y2Y, along with seven partners* launched a dozen projects in the trans-boundary Yahk to Yaak region, a subset of the Cabinet-Purcell Mountain Corridor, with the goals of restoring watersheds, removing roads in core habitats and reducing conflict between bears and people (or more importantly, livestock).

Y2Y and land trust partner, Vital Ground, also successfully conserved strategic, undeveloped parcels of land that are used by grizzlies to navigate around roads and move from one mountain range to another.

“It’s been reported that this grizzly population has been experiencing close to a 1% increase annually,” says Lloyd. “All of our projects either directly or indirectly benefit grizzly bear populations by enhancing habitat and connectivity, and reducing sources of mortality. With these hard numbers we are poised to track success and adjust our methods to keep grizzlies moving.”

The project to determine the grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak zone was a collaborative effort among city, county, tribal, federal, and state agencies, as well as partners from private industry and the non-profit sector, including Y2Y. We were proud to support this work and look forward to reporting how our work contributes to the health of this population.

*Trans-border Grizzly Bear Project, Hawkins Creek Stewardship Committee, Yaak Valley Forest Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Wild Earth Guardians, Vital Ground, Western Transportation Institute