Living Alongside Apex Predators: Grizzlies Making a Comeback in the Lower 48

Grizzly grabs a salmon. Image: USFWS / Public Domain

Grizzly bears are making a comeback. Are you ready to coexist?

Grizzlies once roamed the United States as far west as San Francisco, all the way east into the Great Plains, and south out of the states into Mexico. After years of ruthless hunting and habitat loss, only an estimated 1,500 remain, occupying just 2% of that historic range in isolated pockets of habitat. But that’s changing.

Wildlife experts and enthusiasts all over the US have stepped in to re-establish their former territory in hopes that the remarkable bears have a chance to rebound.

Grizzly bears require connected habitat to access food and mates. The small islands of territory they’ve been left with are not large enough to support genetic diversity, and the bears are forced to find their way through crowded cities and across busy highways to stay connected to other individuals throughout the region. People that encounter them are either ecstatic or terrified, making conservation efforts somewhat challenging.

Whatever your thoughts are on coexisting with an apex predator, research shows that their survival is extremely important. Grizzlies are an “umbrella species,” which means that when their populations are healthy, they help to support the well-being of other species in the region as well. By protecting grizzlies, you’re also protecting dozens of other struggling species.

Image: USGS

Researchers have identified key corridors that would help the grizzlies reconnect across the US, resulting in restored population balance. By working with communities, private land owners, scientists, state agencies, and others to connect wide swaths of land, open travel through these corridors is possible. Additionally, some states are implementing underpasses and overpasses on highways to allow for safe crossings, and hikers are educating themselves on best practices in bear country. So far, it’s working.

Attribution is to be given to Dmitry Azovtsev. When using on the Web, a link to is appreciated., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population is the largest it has ever been, according a recently conducted population study. But with increases in population comes pushback: How will humans handle the return of the grizzlies and other apex predators?

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Tune in to our podcast to hear expert discussions on coexisting with apex predators — like this episode on mountain lions making a comeback in the US.

Mountain lions once roamed the entire continent, but by the turn of the 20th century, they were almost completely wiped out. Now, for the first time in more than a century, their numbers are growing — and fast. It’s a triumph for America’s ecosystems, but can we learn to live with an apex predator in our backyard? It’s a question most Americans have to face as the cats make their comeback. If you don’t live in lion country now, you will soon.