Source: Nature: "The Good, the Bad, and the Grizzly"
Major corporate support for the Nature collection was provided by Canon U.S.A. and SC Johnson. Additional support was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the nation’s public television stations.
As a result of human activities, the grizzly bear population of North America has plummeted over the last 100 years. Yellowstone National Park, one of their last remaining habitats, failed to keep the grizzlies safe from human interference and further endangered the species. This video segment from Nature examines the history of human and grizzly bear interaction at Yellowstone.
Grizzly bears were once scarce in Yellowstone National Park and on their way to extinction. After becoming designated as an Endangered Species over three decades ago, governmental protections have allowed these natural predators to make a comeback. But the grizzly’s success has come at a destructive and often dangerous price for people living nearby. This segment from the Nature episode “The Good, The Bad and the Grizzly” examines how human exploitation endangered the grizzlies in the first place, how human intervention helped restore their numbers, and how delicately humans coexist with the resurgent grizzlies today.
In the 1800’s, grizzlies roamed much of North America. But in our efforts to subdue the West, we eliminated them nearly everywhere in their range. In the end, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks were almost all that remained of grizzly habitat in the lower 48, isolated islands where a few hundred bears were just hanging on.
Bears and people have always had an unusual history in Yellowstone. From the first days of the Park, bears were drawn in to entertain tourists by the promise of food, primarily garbage from the tourists themselves.
Bear viewing was so popular, Yellowstone established dumpsites all through the Park and regular feeding schedules for the bears.
By the 1960’s, the majestic grizzlies of the western frontier had lost their glory. Dependant on handouts for generations, they had forgotten how to fend for themselves. The icons of American wilderness were now squabbling over garbage.
Yellowstone, itself, had been reduced to an amusement park. To restore its wildness, the dumps were closed.
Some predicted that without garbage, grizzlies would not survive. Hungry, the bears grew desperate and dangerous. It was the greatest gamble in Yellowstone’s history – and it almost failed.
Steve French: In the spring of ‘72, the bears came out of their dens for the first time in 80 years and didn’t have garbage in Yellowstone. It was well over a hundred over a course of a two year period of bears that were killed – had to be destroyed. There was no garbage, they went into campgrounds, they got aggressive, they were destroyed.
In 1975, in a last bid to save the bear, the grizzly was placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. With the Park as the core, nine thousand square miles were set aside for the bear’s recovery. Greater Yellowstone had become a refuge where the few bears remaining would make their last stand.
With no handouts available, the bears went to work.
Their survival would depend on rediscovering their ancient ways. They began by hunting elk.
Gradually, year by year, grizzlies struggled back from the brink, reclaiming their place in the heart of Yellowstone.
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