Lewis and Clark
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Grizzly Bears
Grizzly bears
Grizzly bears
 

The members of the Corps of Discovery were deeply curious about grizzly bears, an animal that none of them had seen before. As they traveled further into the region that is now North Dakota, Lewis notes that they had seen

"many tracks of the white [grizzly] bear of enormous size
. . . we have not as yet seen one of these anamals, tho' their tracks are so abundant and recent. the men as well as ourselves are anxious to meet with some of these bear. the Indians give a very formidable account of the streng[t]h and ferocity of this anamal, which they never dare to attack but in parties of six eight or ten persons; and are even then frequently defeated with the loss of one or more of their party. . . . "
Grizzly bear mother with cubs
Grizzly bear mother with cubs
 
The men had heard descriptions of this huge and fearsome animal from the Native Americans, but Lewis also writes that they had a difficult time believing that these descriptions could be entirely accurate, or that the bear could be as dangerous as the Native Americans described. Lewis knew that the native people hunted for grizzlies, but he felt that their weapons were not strong enough to be very effective against such a powerful animal.

Grizzly bears are highly intelligent, and are generally more curious than aggressive toward humans. However, grizzlies can be ferocious when provoked to attack. They typically weigh between 350 to 700 pounds (the heaviest on record weighed almost 1,500 pounds!), and can be about 8 feet long. The men of the expedition were surprised to discover just how large and how strong these bears could be. It is worth noting, however, that any trouble the men had with the grizzlies almost always occurred when the men attacked the bears. Rarely did a grizzly initiate an attack against the explorers. Finally, after many dangerous run-ins with grizzly bears, Lewis decided that he had had his fill of fighting them, writing: "I find that the curiossity of our party is pretty well satisfyed with rispect to this anamal . . ."

When Lewis and Clark explored the west, grizzlies ranged from Mexico to northern Canada, and often ventured out onto the prairies. At this time, approximately 50,000 grizzlies could be found in what would become the United States (not including Alaska). Today, in the lower forty-eight states, only about 1,000 grizzly bears are left. They are almost exclusively found in the wooded areas of the Rocky Mountains. Protected places, such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana and Glacier National Park in Montana, support healthy grizzly bear populations. In 2000, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which officially considers grizzlies a threatened species, began an experimental program to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana and central Idaho.

After doing further research, list five advantages and five disadvantages to reintroducing grizzly bears to their former habitats (as in, for instance, the Bitterroot Mountains).




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