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USFWS Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Retires

Chris Servheen has been the government’s point man on grizzly bear recovery for 35 years.
Courtesy UM College of Forest & Conservation

The man hired to guide the federal government’s grizzly bear recovery program retires at the end of this month.

Chris Servheen says he has profound respect for grizzly bears. The outgoing grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says they’re a tough, resilient animal that can thrive if just given a fair chance. Servheen also describes grizzlies as a “magical species."

"Anytime anybody’s seen a grizzly bear in the back country they can tell you the minutest details of that encounter. Seeing grizzly bears burns that into our memory.”

Servheen’s been the government’s point man on grizzly recovery for 35 years.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lower 48’s grizzly population as a threatened and endangered species in 1975. The agency hired Servheen to shepherd the bears through the lengthy recovery process in 1981.

"I’d just finished my Ph.D. on grizzly bears in the Mission Mountains. During that time, I had helped with creation of the plan – adding biological information – and I considered it a great honor and challenge to do that.”

Servheen says there are now about 2,000 grizzlies in the Lower 48. He says the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem populations are recovered.

"We have up to three times as many bears today as when I started. They occupy more than twice the range they lived in when I started. We’ve come a long way.”

Not everyone agrees with Servheen’s assessment that grizzly bears are doing as well as they are. Some biologists say the Yellowstone Grizzly population is poised to crash due to climate change.

Servheen’s retirement announcement comes just weeks after his agency proposed delisting Yellowstone’s grizzlies from the endangered species list.

"I am fit and healthy. I like to fly-fish. I like to spend time backpacking in the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat and going to see bears in the backcountry and I want to do that with my two sons. I’ve put in my 35 years and I’ve done my best.”

Servheen, who is 65, steps down at the end of this month.

Fish and Wildlife Service bear biologist Wayne Kasworm will fill in as acting recovery coordinator.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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