BILLINGS, Mont. – Grizzly bears are slowly expanding the turf where they roam in parts of the northern Rocky Mountains but need continued protections, according to government scientists who concluded that no other areas of the country would be suitable for reintroducing the fearsome predators.
The Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday released its first assessment in almost a decade about the status of grizzly bears in the contiguous U.S. The bruins are shielded from hunting as a threatened species except in Alaska.
Grizzly populations grew over the past 10 years in two areas — the Yellowstone region of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, with more than 700 bears; and around Glacier National Park in Montana, which is home to more than 1,000 of the animals.
Grizzly numbers remain low in other parts of the Northern Rockies, and scientists said their focus is on bolstering those populations rather than reintroducing them elsewhere in the country.
The bears now occupy about 6% of their historical range in the contiguous U.S., up from 2% in 1975.
Conservationists and some university scientists have pushed to return bears to areas including Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and California’s Sierra Nevada.
The 368-page assessmen t makes no recommendation on the topic, but scientists looked at the possibility of bears in more areas as part of an examination of their remaining habitat.
That analysis showed grizzlies would be unable to sustain themselves in the San Juans, the Sierra Nevada or two other areas -- Utah’s Uinta Mountains and New Mexico’s Mongollon Mountains.