ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – An environmental group wants to see Grizzly bears back on the landscape. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition Thursday, asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to update their 1993 Grizzly Bear recovery plan.
The Center for Biological Diversity says there are thousands of acres in the West where Grizzlies would thrive and more land means more Grizzlies and a better chance for their long-term survival. Yet, some groups aren’t so sure reintroduction is a good idea.
At one point, scientists believe there were up to 100,000 Grizzlies roaming the American West. Now, there are less than 2,000.
“Currently, the Grizzly bear survives in just a mere four percent of its historic range in the western United States,” said Center for Biological Diversity Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald.
Grizzlies were put on the Endangered Species list in 1975. The Feds came up with a recovery plan for them more than 20 years ago. Now, the Center for Biological Diversity wants to see that plan updated and they’ve pointed out 110,000 square miles of habitat where they say Grizzlies would thrive. It includes the Gila in New Mexico and Arizona.
“For bears to survive in the long run, they need to occur in a wider area than they do. Recovery efforts have really only focused on the areas surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Those are the only places where healthy bear populations really occur and that’s just simply not enough to ensure their long-term survival,” explained Greenwald.
Experts with the group say Grizzlies are an important part of the ecosystem.
“As a top predator, they regulate deer and elk populations which keep those herds healthy. It also, in turn, benefits species that deer and elk forage on,” says Greenwald.
Yet, some aren’t so sure about the Grizzly’s return.
“It’s ridiculous, in our opinion and it’s such a waste of time but, at the same time, it’s extremely dangerous,” says New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association’s Cathy Cowen.
Cowen says introducing the large predator to the land is not only dangerous for livestock, it’s also dangerous for people.
“How are people going to go to the Gila National Forest to camp and hunt and recreate when there’s a fear of Grizzly Bears there?” asked Cowen.
Greenwald says there are ways to protect livestock, like electric fences and livestock guard dogs. When it comes to people, he says it’s all about educating the public on how to live with bears.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they’ve yet to review the petition.