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Yellowstone importing grizzlies to improve genetics

Yellowstone National Park says by 2022 the park may need to import grizzly bears from other regions to increase the animals’ genetic diversity.

Because the park is not close enough to other regions inhabited by grizzly bears, the park’s bears have become genetically isolated. Transplanting grizzly bears to the park to promote interbreeding could be a last resort to deal with the issue. Ideally, officials would like to see the park connected by some type of land bridge allowing bears to migrate back and forth and interbreed.

Dave Hallac, the new scientific chief for the park, said the draft progress report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is an important way to tell the committee, as well as people of the world, how the park has been able to address the committee’s original concerns. The report is the sixth to the committee on the condition of the park since it was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger sites in 2003.

“Increasing connectivity is tough,” Hallac said, but he said others, such as the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, are attempting to provide such large-scale connections.

In addition to concerns about grizzly bear genetic diversity and Yellowstone Lake lake trout eradication, the report also addresses the challenges of dealing with annual winter bison migrations to Montana; how wolf hunting in surrounding states may affect the park’s wolf population; continued pressure from high visitor use; winter visitation and the effects of snowmobiling; and a more detailed understanding of the ecological role that the surrounding lands play in maintaining the park’s values, and a long-term vision and plan for integrated management of the park and its surrounding areas.

Yellowstone was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 because of its outstanding natural and cultural values. In 1995, the committee placed Yellowstone on its list of threatened sites. To address UNESCO’s concerns, the park has provided the group with its plans and actions to address the specific conservation challenges. The World Heritage Committee will review Yellowstone’s report at its 36th session in 2012.

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