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Mighty Grizzly Hangs On in the U.S. 'Lower 48' -- For Now

The Latin scientific names for creatures can sound pretty dull. Not this one: Ursus arctos horribilis -- horrible north bear. It describes the ferocious grizzly -- once the undisputed lord of wild places in western North America.

The great beasts can weigh 400 kilograms, stand three and one-half meters tall on their back paws, and chase down even the fastest human. Though terrifying, grizzlies eat mostly fish, berries, grubs, and the occasional sheep. Loners, they steer clear of humans. But their heads were so prized as trophies, and their fat as grease and hair pomade, that they were hunted and trapped almost to extinction. In the mountain states south of Canada today, where 50,000 hump-backed grizzlies once loped anywhere they liked, only about 1,300 of the great bears remain. And so the grizzly -- which gets its name from white tips on its fur that give it an aged or grizzled look -- is officially a threatened species.

Most roam in and around Glacier National Park in Montana and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracks and nurtures them. Hunting grizzlies is now banned, and bear-proofing of trash sites has lessened their human contact.

All this works so well that wildlife officials soon expect to remove Yellowstone grizzlies from the threatened list. They had even hoped to re-introduce grizzlies to the remote Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho. No thanks, said Idaho's governor. We'll ship a few of these flesh-eating carnivores back East and see how they like dealing with this dangerous animal.

So while the grizzly has regained a foothold in the wildest West, to some folks this menacing beast remains the horrible north bear.