One important factor in the grizzly’s rebound has been teaching people how to live with bears. That means keeping the animals away from humans so rangers or others don’t relocate or shoot them. Near Cody, east of YellowstoneNational Park, an eight-foot-high bear-proof fence protects a small schoolhouse. Some ranchers take their cow carcasses to the county dump rather than leaving them to attract ursine scavengers. (The state of Wyoming has reimbursed ranchers more than $500,000 since 1995 for livestock losses.) Before a dumpster can be certified as “bear-resistant,” a 900-pound captive grizzly pounds away at a prototype filled with peanut butter and cookies. People put up electric fences around beehives (bears do love honey) and learn how to behave in a grizzly’s presence (never look them in the eye, back away slowly).
The long-term prognosis for the Yellowstone bears is cloudy. Genetic inbreeding may hamper this population’s survival. And conservationists worry that declaring the grizzly no longer threatened will open the Yellowstone area to increased oil, gas and residential development, which would fragment the grizzly’s habitat even more and hamper, if not undo, the bears’ progress.
Chris Servheen, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the FWS, says the bears have come back largely because people aren’t killing them as much as they used to: “The most important habitat for bears is in the human heart.”