Return of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear
Yellowstone grizzly bears inhabit federal, state, tribal, and private lands, and long-term research requires careful coordination across governmental levels. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) is an interdisciplinary group of scientists and biologists responsible for long-term monitoring and research efforts on grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). The team was formed by the Department of the Interior (DOI) in 1973 and today’s members include representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department, and the States of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. This interagency approach ensures consistency in data collection and allows for combining limited resources to address information needs throughout the GYE.
The study team, now led by the U.S. Geological Survey, has conducted research on this the Yellowstone grizzly bear for over 40 years, perhaps the largest collection of scientific information on any bear species in the world. This video highlights what decades of science tell us about this charismatic species and its conservation.
The USGS provides the unbiased science needed to manage America’s natural resources and to help endangered and threatened species recover.
The USGS led Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team is part of the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center. The center is part of the Northwest Region of the USGS. Scientists from the Center work in the northern Rocky Mountains of the United States and across the U.S. Many of their scientists work throughout the world on issues as diverse as global climate change, aquatic ecology, wildlife diseases, bison ecology, and large carnivores.
Location Taken: MT, US
Video Credits: Public Affairs Specialist, Ryan McClymont, USGS (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mark Haroldson (Supervisory Wildlife Biologist/34 years with IGBST): Grizzly bears are for anybody who has seen them in the wild they’re kind of awe inspiring and they’re a majestic creature that you wonder how they’re making a living on the landscape. They inspire a lot of awe and in me curiosity.
Chad Dickinson (Biological Science Technician/24 years with IGBST): When I think about grizzly bears and what amazes me about them is just how tough and adaptable they are and just how many emotions they bring within people. Some people love’em, some people hate’em, some people it’s a combination of both.
Narrator: The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is considered one of the last ecological strongholds of the wild American West, home to spectacular geologic wonders and iconic animals such as the grizzly bear. For many, the grizzly bear evokes awe and wonder, and symbolizes wildness.
Frank van Manen (USGS Supervisory Research Wildlife Biologist and IGBST Team Leader): To me grizzly bears complete the landscape, large predators are missing in vast majority of lands in North America now and grizzly bears in Yellowstone are still one of those few places where you still have the full complement of large carnivores and especially with grizzly bears that are formidable predators that inspire awe among people, having them present on the landscape is unique and I think it represents the wildness this continent once had and it’s one of those few places where we still have that.
Narrator: Grizzlies were once found throughout western North America, but by the late 1960s they were only found in about 2% of their historic range in the contiguous United States. In 1975 grizzly bears in the lower 48 states were listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act because of continued range reduction and population declines due to human impacts.
In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, grizzly bear numbers had declined to perhaps fewer than 250. An interagency group of scientists known as the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team was created to lead efforts to better understand the status of grizzly bears in this region.
The study team, now led by the U.S. Geological Survey, has conducted research on this charismatic animal for over 40 years, perhaps the largest collection of scientific information on any bear species in the world. Scientists with the States of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, as well as Federal and Tribal partners, work together to provide wildlife managers relevant scientific data on the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear population.
Frank van Manen (USGS Supervisory Research Wildlife Biologist and IGBST Team Leader): Another important aspect of Grizzly bears in this ecosystem is it makes you realize that without these animals how empty a landscape actually is and so to have these powerful animals on the landscape represents something truly unique to me and I think a lot of other people that are interested in grizzly bears in Yellowstone.
Narrator: Today, the study team estimates that the population has rebounded to a minimum of 700 bears, and these bears are now delisted from the Endangered Species Act. Though much of the credit goes to the grizzly bear and its resilience over decades of management and landscape changes, rigorous science that informs effective management decisions is also part of the equation. Here is what that science tells us.
Grizzly bears can weigh over 600 pounds, and owe that to being an opportunistic omnivore. Their diet of over 200 food items, including plants, animals, and fungi, can shift quickly, and enabled them to adapt to changing food supplies in recent years.
Though the study team monitors both male and female bears, it is the females that are the key to estimating the population. A grizzly bear can live for over 30 years but reproduces slowly, which means that long-term studies are crucial to understanding them biologically. Since the mid-1980s science has shown that Yellowstone grizzly bears have increased in numbers and expanded their range.
Ensuring the future viability of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will require continued public engagement, along with the reliable scientific information that assists wildlife managers in conserving the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear.