Doug's Blog

Rants from a renegade naturalist

Is Yellowstone's Grizzly Bear Population Doomed?

Legendary environmentalist Doug Peacock on what the removal of grizzlies from the Endangered Species list means for Yellowstone’s wilderness.

Is Yellowstone's Grizzly Bear Population Doomed?Is Yellowstone's Grizzly Bear Population Doomed? Men's Journal - 4/27/17

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Don't Delist the Yellowstone Griz (nor believe everything you read)

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Two contrasting news stories about bears in the West were published on April 2, 2017. The first is a credible six-year scientific study of black bears by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The second is a report from the Yellowstone Ecosystem subcommittee meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in Jackson, Wyoming, featuring the head scientist spouting familiar political bullshit about too many grizzlies ever expanding their Yellowstone range.


The Colorado study documents rising temperatures, fewer days spent in the den, increased human conflicts, and dramatically decreasing female black bear populations in southwestern Colorado. Rising conflicts with bears eating human garbage does not mean the bear population is rising. Garbage, they conclude, is not addicting; bears go back to natural food when it is available. The key to bear populations is the carrying capacity: how much food is there, which is directly related to soil moisture and plant production that is, in turn, directly related to climate change and (by correlation) to drought and rising temperatures in the American West.


On the other hand, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in Yellowstone doesn’t believe climate change matters, writing in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we (The Fish and Wildlife Service) conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to (the Yellowstone grizzly bear population) now, not are they anticipated to in the future.” Frank van Manen, head scientist of Study Team, says the grizzlies are expanding their range by 11 percent every couple years. Why? He says it’s because there are too many bears: “We are packing more sardines in the sardine can.” Van Manen thinks they are overflowing from the can into new territory where conflicts with livestock abound, and that today we are seeing the largest Yellowstone grizzly bear population size since listed as a threatened species in 1975.


This is bullshit. Climate change has already decimated key Yellowstone grizzly foods, especially whitebark pine nuts (which is now functionally extinct as a food source for bears), and has lowered the carrying capacity of the habitat through drought and rising temperatures (for a scientific discussion, click on the Grizzly-Sardine-Can link below).


Bears are ranging out of the Yellowstone core area, but it’s because there’s not enough food there. Hence, the density of grizzlies has decreased. The population of Yellowstone bears has not increased for 15 years and has probably declined since 2007—coincidentally the date of the tipping point for methane release in the Arctic, the commencement of abrupt climate change, and the sudden death of whitebark pine trees in Yellowstone. Is there any chance these events could be related? You bet your ass.


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Delisting of Yellowstone Grizzlies Delayed

The US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) said on January 12, 2017 that it could take the agency another six months to finish reviewing 650,000 public comments submitted on the decision to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the ESA list. Many of those 650,000 comments contain arguments, scientific and otherwise, about why the Yellowstone grizzly bear should not be delisted, especially because of the threat of climate change and an ill-advised trophy grizzly hunt. To review is to take another look, to evaluate. Does this mean the FWS would re-open its mind to those thousands of comments who argue the best available science says don’t delist the grizzly?

I can only wish this to be the case. The Endangered Species Act’s "best available science" mandate remains Yellowstone’s grizzlies’ best friend Whereas the past years’ Save the Yellowstone Grizzly campaign appealed to the White House, a fresh effort should be aimed directly at the FWS where some biologist are hopefully still weighing the best available science.

Our June 3, 2016 letter to President Obama included this statement:

"Unfortunately, the March 3, 2016, delisting announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) came paired with an astonishing declaration in the Federal Register: 'Therefore, we conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to the [Yellowstone grizzly bear population] now, nor are they anticipated to in the future.’"

That letter was signed by E. O. Wilson, George Schaller, Jane Goodall and Michael Soule—among the world’s most respected scientists.

I believe that now we should ask many, many other scientists, peers of those FWS agency biologists, to speak out on behalf of the best available science for Yellowstone’s grizzlies. This dialogue will take place in a public forum, as there is no official comment period remaining. Those who love wild nature as well as our grandchildren must fight to recognize and respond to the beast of out time—climate change, which is indeed probably also the key argument for not delisting the grizzly.

Call it peer pressure, but let’s give it a shot; we have nothing to lose unless it’s everything.

For the wild,

Doug Peacock

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Save the Yellowstone Grizzly Campaign

A star-studded coalition of scientists, authors, movie stars and conservationists has launched a media campaign and petition to convince President Barack Obama to take executive action, overruling an agency proposal to take the Yellowstone grizzly bear off the Endangered Species list.


Esteemed scientists Jane Goodall, George B. Schaller, Michael Soule, and Edward O. Wilson joined with actors Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford and Michael Keaton, authors Carl Hiaasen, Scott Momaday, Terry Tempest Williams, Douglas Brinkley, and Thomas McGuane, along with businessman Yvon Chouinard and former Yellowstone park superintendent Michael Finley, sending a plea to the president following an announcement by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) last spring of its intention to remove federal protections of the bear.


Today, Save the Yellowstone Grizzly launches a petition to reverse the FWS action, along with a website featuring video testimony from Bridges, Chouinard, Goodall, Hiaasen, Tempest-Williams and myself, in which we make their case for the grizzly’s future.



Yellowstone’s grizzly bears are in grave danger and require continuing federal protection for their survival. It is imperative the great bears remain listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


The FWS has regrettably taken steps to remove these protections (an action called “delisting”), and allow a grizzly bear trophy hunt on the edges of Yellowstone National Park. Americans would never permit hunting of the American bald eagle; hunting Yellowstone’s grizzly bears is equally unacceptable.


Yellowstone’s bears are genetically and physically isolated from all other grizzly populations. Their long-term survival depends on their ability to wander safely outside of Yellowstone National Park, linking up with other grizzly populations in other ecosystems.


Grizzlies are one of the slowest reproducing land mammals in North America. Delisting triggers a trophy hunt that will put them on the path to extinction.


The Yellowstone grizzly’s major food sources are in decline: Cutthroat trout have been reduced by 90 percent, and most critically, global warming has decimated the grizzly’s most important food, nuts of the whitebark pine tree.


In its delisting proposal, the FWS makes the declaration that climate change will not affect the Yellowstone grizzly now or in the future. This myopic statement flies in the face of scientific study and reality on the ground, calling into question the agency’s competency and intentions.


You can help. Please join our continuing campaign by signing this petition asking President Obama to take executive action, keeping the Yellowstone grizzly bear on the Endangered Species list. Also, you may view the videos and get updates at our website:

Please help spread the word by sharing these links with your friends.









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Open Letter to President Obama

June 3, 2016


The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500


Dear President Obama:

We are writing to thank you for your leadership on climate change and to ask for your help: Yellowstone grizzly bears are in grave danger.

Your administration has regrettably taken steps to strip the bear’s federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opening up a grizzly bear trophy hunt on the edges of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone’s bears are a remnant and isolated population. They must be allowed to wander safely outside of Yellowstone National Park.

Americans would never accept hunting of America’s bald eagle; hunting Yellowstone grizzly bears is equally unacceptable.

To make matters worse, America’s great bears face the same looming threats as many species across the country due to climate change. In the last decade, climate change has decimated the Yellowstone grizzly’s most important food, the white bark pine nut.

Unfortunately, the March 3, 2016, delisting announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) came paired with an astonishing declaration in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to the [Yellowstone grizzly bear population] now, nor are they anticipated to in the future.”

This statement is even more disturbing in light of your administration’s commitment to addressing climate change, because climate change predictions are dire for all our planet’s species. How can it be that the military considers climate change in all its decisions, while the agency responsible for our wildlife, the FWS, does not?

The same argument – the denial of climate change – was used by the FWS in 2014 to deny listing the wolverine in the lower 48 states. On April 4, 2016, that decision was reversed in federal court, and declared “arbitrary and capricious.” The FWS was ordered to reconsider its reasoning about climate change. It’s now time for this federal agency to play catch up and use “the best available science” to keep grizzly bears on the ESA list.

A critical question: Who benefits from delisting Yellowstone’s grizzly bears? The only certain outcome of delisting bears will be trophy hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

We ask you to instruct our federal wildlife managers to withdraw the March 3 rule and order the FWS to take another look at how climate change impacts grizzly bears. Any decision about the bear’s future should be put on hold until independent scientific review can explore potential impacts to bears from climate change. We strongly suspect that America’s great bears face a dire future, even with the continued protection of the Endangered Species Act.


Respectfully yours,


Doug Peacock

Disabled veteran, Author, Guggenheim Fellow


Concerned scientists:

Professor Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology

George B. Schaller, Panthera Corporation and Wildlife Conservation Society

Jane Goodall, Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace

Michael Soule, Professor Emeritus, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz


Friends of the Yellowstone ecosystem:

Jeff Bridges, Academy Award-winning actor

Douglas Brinkley, Author and professor of history

Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, Inc.

Michael Finley, Former superintendent Yellowstone National Park

Harrison Ford, Award-winning actor

Carl Hiaasen, Journalist, author

Michael Keaton, Award-winning actor

Tom McGuane, American Academy of Arts & Letters

N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize winner

Terry Tempest Williams, Author and Guggenheim Fellow

Ted Turner, Philanthropist and conservationist


Download the Letter (PDF)


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