Last year was a rough one for the Yellowstone grizzly-bear population: in 2008 71 grizzlies were killed out of a total population of 600. That's more than one-tenth of the estimated Yellowstone National Park grizzly population.

Could the grizzly end up on endangered list again?

As a result, attorneys from the Earthjustice activist group have filed motions asking that the Yellowstone grizzly bear be placed back on the Endangered Species List, a move that would afford the remaining bears a higher level of protection.

But is such a move necessary — or will it even be effective? Out of the 71 grizzlies killed in 2008, only 48 were killed by hunters, and out of those 20 were killed by hunters claiming self-defense. So while preventing grizzly bears from being hunted will save some, it won’t necessarily eliminate all killings.

It will, however, give the grizzly a fighting chance in a much larger fight: the loss of food due to pest infiltrations and global warming.

Here’s the deal. During slow times grizzly bears will eat just about anything, but they derive a lot of sustenance from whitebark pine-tree seeds, located in Yellowstone’s high country. But beetles are now getting to those seeds first; the climate in Yellowstone National Park’s high country has warmed enough to where it’s possible for beetles to get a foothold in the local ecosystem. Plus, with fewer seeds hitting the ground, there are fewer seedlings taking root, leading to a death spiral of sorts. With fewer pine-tree seeds, there’s less food for grizzlies. And where there’s less food, there are fewer grizzlies.

Putting grizzly bears on an endangered list won’t directly address this issue; indeed, the issue really cannot be addressed by the National Park Service at all. But by classifying the grizzlies as endangered, it does give the remaining population a fighting chance for survival — and ultimately that’s the sole reason for its existence.


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