By Brynn Walling, USFWS
When you think of picnics, bonfires, and camping, what iconic U.S. animal do you think of first?
Is it the grizzly bear?
Sure, was for me!
Grizzly bears can grow up to 7 feet tall! Males range in weight from 500 to 700 pounds, but have been known to weigh up to 800 pounds! Females are slightly smaller ranging from 200 to 400 pounds.
Grizzlies are an iconic -- but threatened -- species. (Image: USFWS)
Lewis and Clark were the first known to report the sighting grizzlies. In the 1800s approximately 50,000 bears roamed the west. Clark recorded in his journal that he saw a “white bear.” After talking to Native Americans about the animal, Clark distinguished the grizzly bear from the American black bear.
Their size isn’t the only characteristic that distinguishes them from the American black bear. Grizzlies have a hump just above their shoulders that is pure muscle mass used to power their forelimbs in digging. Their facial features are more concaved than black bears and they have longer, straighter claws. Of course their fur coats are brown, but the hair is spotted with white-ish, gray hair. This is known as “grizzled” hair, which is where the name “grizzly bear” came from.
Being such an iconic species, you may not realize that grizzly bears are actually a threatened species. They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. As the human population increased, the bears’ roaming habitat decreased. Today, there are approximately 1,200 to 1,400 grizzlies in the lower 48 states. There are five ecosystems in which these bears can be spotted. The largest is the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in Montana. The other four are located in Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Idaho.
If you are interested in being able to distinguish between the two bears, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has developed a Bear ID Test that not only teaches you how to identify them, but interactively allows you to practice your skills.
Each week, throughout this ruby anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act, we’ll highlight stories of conservation success in every state across the country. Stay tuned!