Group Wants Grizzly Bear Back in Grand Canyon, Other Areas of South West

The grizzly bear, a true icon of the American West and a sometimes nasty reputation, should be returned to the Grand Canyon, an environmental group insists.

Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the return of grizzly bears to the Grand Canyon and other areas of the Southwest.

The petition recognizes 110,000 square miles of possible bear habitat — in Arizona, California, New Mexico, the Sierra Nevada and Utah’s Uinta Mountains — that would allow the introduction of up to 6,000 grizzly bears.

“This animal is very much revered,” said Noah Greenwald, the center’s endangered species director. “They are an iconic symbol of wilderness and our past.”

According to Greenwald, fewer than 2,000 grizzly bears exist today and are confined to Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.

He also said grizzly bears are true American icons, yet they live in a paltry four percent of the lands where they used to roam.

The reintroduction of grizzly bears to the greater Southwest would help increase the population of the endangered species, as well as help control prey population and sustain the health of deer and elk herds, Greenwald said.

But not everyone thinks the petition is a good idea. Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, believes reintroducing bears to Arizona could hurt the livestock industry, especially ranchers near the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Bray also said the reintroduction plan would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and called the center’s action a “game” to “keep man off public lands.”

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The Department of Wildlife already struggles with problems regarding interaction between people and black bears. And while black bears have attacked people in some places – attacks on people by grizzlies are a well-known danger. In 2011, two hikers were killed in two separate grizzly attacks in Yellowstone.

“Humans should be really careful in playing God with these things,” Bray said.

Wildlife in Grand Canyon consists of a wide assortment of dangerous animals including mountain lions and black bears. However, these Grand Canyon animals, as dangerous as they are, do not send as many visitors to the emergency room as the rock squirrel. Along with their sharp but small teeth, squirrels may also pass a whole bunch of diseases to their victims.

Grizzly bears by the numbers:

  • 50,000-100,000: Number of grizzly bears once living across the West.
  • 1,500-1,800: Current number of grizzly bears.
  • 6,000: Possible number of grizzly bears with new habitat added.
  • 110,000: Square miles of possible new grizzly bear habitat.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity.