Probably the most powerful experience of living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the awareness of not being at the very top of the food chain. Most people in the world get very comfortable with all other species being terrified of humans and feel quite comfortable with the power of safely walking in wilderness areas alone. Such is not the case in this marvelously intact ecosystem. Apex predators such as bears, wolves, and mountain lions live throughout this ecosystem and all people are encouraged to carry pepper spray and travel in groups of three or more. While my favorite way of interacting with the outdoors has typically been to hike alone, the humility that has come with not feeling perfectly safe doing that has been more than worth the experience.
Grizzly bears, Ursus arctos horribilis, are the inland subspecies of the brown bear, Ursus arctos, and, like most top predators in the world, have a challenging history with humans. These bears used to roam most of western North America (such a bear is still on the California flag), but now less than 2,000 grizzlies remain in the continental USA and they are considered threatened. Some sources say that grizzlies have been extirpated from 98% of their original range. Even though the grizzly bear population has rebounded substantially since the late 19th century, they are far from repopulating their original range. Yet the goal to de-list grizzlies from the Endangered Species List is a serious one at the moment. Who knows what that will do to their current populations… but I doubt very much that they will continue to rebound as successfully. A quick Google search on “grizzly bear de-listing” yields a variety of different opinions on the matter.
I never dreamed that I would be fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time with the right camera to safely see a grizzly bear, let alone a grizzly with cubs, but I have now been fortunate enough to have had this experience on three separate occasions.
If protection exists for any species during this dynamic time of ours, why not maintain that protection? Instead of figuring out who not to protect, perhaps more efforts should be devoted to who else to protect.