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The Truth About Bears: The Maps

Bears in the lower 48 have rebounded from decades of declining populations and shrinking habitat. Also improving: your chance of seeing a bruin in the wild. By Ted Alvarez
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Grizzlies Gain Ground

The outlook is even sunnier for grizzlies. While they won’t ever occupy much of a former range that stretched from California to Kansas to Mexico, they’ve established thriving populations in the Rockies. In greater Yellowstone and Glacier, where 95 percent of Lower 48 grizzlies live, populations are growing two to three percent per year, with some 1,600 bruins total in 2012.

That’s astounding, given that they almost vanished outside of Canada and Alaska in the last century. By 1930, as few as 150 to 200 grizzlies remained in each of the Glacier and Yellowstone regions. Eventual listing as an endangered species came in 1975, and in 1981, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created an official post to direct research and begin the long, tenuous road to recovery. Servheen has held that post since its inception, and grizzlies today represent one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act.

“In Yellowstone and Glacier, the populations rival the density before the white man arrived,” says Servheen. “I’ve heard people say: ‘Trails are smoothed out every morning by the number of bears traveling through at night.’” That’s an exaggeration, of course, but with 608 grizzlies in 2012, the Yellowstone region now supports three times as many bears as it did 30 years ago. “Yellowstone’s at carrying capacity,” says Servheen. “We measure that by looking at the survival of subadults: It declines in a place with high density. They’re starting to regulate their own numbers.”

This increased density, says Servheen, means hikers’ chances of seeing a bear are better than they’ve been in a very long time.

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