How Climate Change & People Are Wiping Out the Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone
photo: WikipediaYale Environment 360 currently has a piece which connects two subjects that TreeHugger has covered on a number of occasions, species getting de-listed as endangered species and climate change wiping out habitat. In this case it's the grizzly bear and pine trees dying in and around Yellowstone National Park:Record Numbers of Bears Killed in 2008Though the grizzly bear had been on the Endangered Species List since 1975, it was removed in 2007, thereby essentially allowing hunters to declare open season on the animals. And in 2008 record numbers were killed 37 were killed by humans.
Add to that bears found to have died from other causes and the total rises to 54—a figure which is more likely really around 100, if you take into account the ordinary discrepancy between "known mortality" and those bears whose deaths went unnoticed. That's the word from author Doug Peacock, a man who knows a thing or two about grizzlies.
Map of the grizzly bear's historic and present range: WikipediaPine Trees Being Wiped Out TooPeacock also argues that climate change, which is killing off whitebark pine trees in the Yellowstone region as invasive pine beetles quickly spread, is doing in the bears. Because pine nuts are becoming increasingly scarce, an important food source for the bears in declining.
Peacock describes how quickly the pines trees died and what it means for grizzlies:
You could see it from the highways. The region’s whitebark pine trees surrendered to an invasive pine beetle on a scale of death none of us thought we’d ever see. And it happened so fast — not in decades but just a few years — that it took both concerned citizens and scientists by complete surprise.No One in Federal Government Acting to Protect BearsUltimately, Peacock recommends that that the grizzly bear be reinstated to the Endangered Species List. But no one at the federal level seems willing to act; nor do they want to talk about the bear-pine tree connection, especially in connection with climate change.
The reason the trees died is because the winters warmed up during the last seven years and the mountain pine beetle, already active in the lower lodgepole pine forest, moved up a life zone into the whitebark and killed the trees. Nature controls the beetle by freezing the larva — cold temperatures of minus 30-35 degrees Fahrenheit for about five days in winter, depending on the thickness of the tree bark. It is well documented that good whitebark cone crops decrease grizzly mortality and increase the number of bear cubs per litter.
But whitebark pine in the Yellowstone park area is nearly gone: No amount of science or management will bring the trees back in our lifetime. With whitebark pine nuts eliminated from grizzly bear diets — and this seems to be the case — grizzlies in this island ecosystem will be severely stressed. The bears could be on their way out.
For more on what Peacock says needs to be done to protect Yellowstone's grizzlies, check out: Yellowstone's Grizzly Bears Face Threats on Two FrontsEndangered SpeciesFirst Wolves, Now Polar Bears: Obama Issues Strike Two for Endangered SpeciesEndangered Species Act: 93% Success Rate in NortheastConservation Groups Fight to Get Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves Back on Endangered Species ListOne Third of US Birds Endangered, Threatened or in DeclineGlobal Climate ChangeMountain Pine Beetle Invasion in Canada Poses Global Warming ThreatCan Hemp Solve the Mountain Pine Beetle Crisis? The Pine Beetle's Deadly March