WASHINGTON — A new petition asks that the government help populate much of the American West with grizzly bears in an effort to recover the endangered species.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return nearly 4,000 additional grizzlies to 110,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and California.
The proposed grizzly habitat would fall in places like the Gila/Mogollon complex in Arizona and New Mexico, Utah’s Uinta Mountains, California’s Sierra Nevada and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The effort would be a step toward increasing the grizzly bear population. The Center for Biological Diversity said it is hoping to bring the numbers from 1,500 to 6,000.
While the petition has not gotten a response from the government, Noah Greenwald, the Center's endangered species director, said he is confident the public would be behind it.
"When polling shows consistently for wolves that a majority of the public wants to see them restored, I think it would be similar for bears if not even better," Greenwald said. "These are just such iconic animals. They're beautiful animals, they play an important role in the ecosystems in which they occur and I think many people, if not an outright majority of people would be glad to see them back — even in Utah."
Greenwald said the government has acknowledged their current plan is outdated.
These are just such iconic animals. They're beautiful animals, they play an important role in the ecosystems in which they occur and I think many people, if not an outright majority of people would be glad to see them back — even in Utah.
“Grizzly bears are one of the true icons of the American West, yet today they live in a paltry 4 percent of the lands where they used to roam,” Greenwald said in a release. “We shouldn’t be closing the book on grizzly recovery but beginning a new chapter — one where these amazing animals live wherever there’s good habitat for them across the West.”
The petition calls on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise a plan set up in 1993 and to include more recent research about current grizzly bear populations. Factors like climate change, invasive species and human population growth have been taken into account under the proposed program.
Greenwald said there is a long way to go. Although the existing program has touched on some of the issues that need to be solved in order for the bears to thrive, there are ways to better help the grizzlies, he said.
“The science is clear that, if we’re serious about recovering grizzly bears, we need more populations around the West, and more connections between them, so they don’t fall prey to inbreeding and so they have a chance of adapting to a warming world,” Greenwald said. “If we want these incredible bears around for centuries to come, we’ve still got a lot of work left to do.”
Contributing: Dave Cawley