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Grizzly bears Ursus arctos horribilis are important figures in Americas wildlife heritage For many people the grizzly embodies the spirit of the American Wilderness Up until the turn of the 20th century they were fairly common throughout most of the western United States It is estimated that around 50000 grizzly bears roamed the American West before the arrival of the Europeans Over the past hundred years population levels as well as distribution have significantly decreased due to habitat destruction and intentional killings Today grizzly bears roam in only 2 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states Between 800 and 1000 grizzly bears live freely in a few population areas in Montana Idaho Wyoming and Washington The distribution style of the grizzly bear in the American West can be described as a metapopulation a set of spatially disjunct populations among which there is some potential immigration Grizzly bears are most vulnerable when living in sparse populations in only a small portion of their original historical range The grizzly bear was once an abundant species in the Bitterroot ecosystem of Idaho recent studies USFWS 1996 show that they have completely disappeared from that area today This situation is all too common in many areas in the west History shows that the extinction of the American grizzly is inevitable unless the trend in population decline is turned around Historical records show that the grizzly bear was originally a prominent inhabitant of the Bitterroot Mountains in central Idaho Prior to the arrival of Europeans with firearms the grizzly bear ruled the American West They roamed from Alaska to Mexico and on the Great Plains as far east as the Mississippi The first Americans to travel to the west were unprepared to deal with these aggressive 600 lb nuisances that could run uphill with the speed of a horse The grizzly earned a reputation as the horrible bear When Lewis and Clark traveled through the area
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