It’s A Real Long Shot, But Wyoming Grizzlies Could Someday Reclaim Nebraska

If Wyoming grizzly bears were ever to reclaim their historical range in Nebraska, they’d have to get there on their own, and then count on locals to tolerate them, a wildlife biologist says.

Mark Heinz

June 13, 20232 min read

Grizzly and cubs 6 13 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Thinking in terms of years, it’s not likely Wyoming’s grizzly bears could reclaim their old range in Nebraska.

But over decades, or perhaps generations, it could happen, a wildlife biologist said.

“Opinions can change. The level of acceptance could change, but it’s not something I see happening in the near future,” Sam Wilson, a carnivore and furbearer biologist with the Nebraska Game and Park Commission, told Cowboy State Daily.

Griz Left Before The Civil War

The ancestors of today’s grizzlies evolved on the steppes of Russia, so the species is well-adapted to life on the open prairie. Grizzlies once occupied vast swaths of the Great Plains, two bear experts told Cowboy State Daily this week.

As far as anybody knows, the last time grizzlies left tracks in Nebraska was before the Civil War in 1858, Wilson said. That year, there were reports of a female grizzly with two cubs on the open prairie between the North Platte and South Platte rivers.

Nebraska Won’t Ask Wyoming For Grizzlies

If grizzlies ever do make it back to the Cornhusker state, they’ll have to get there on their own, Wilson said.

“It certainly wouldn’t be through any sort of reintroduction program,” he said.

So, Nebraska won’t ask Wyoming if it could snag a few of our grizzlies the way that Colorado recently asked for wolves — a request that Gov. Mark Gordon flatly refused.

Probably Not Feasible Anyway

Roughly 98% of Nebraska is private land, and most of that is used for ranching and other agriculture, Wilson said. So there isn’t much chance that folks there would appreciate grizzlies roving around, Wilson said.

“Grizzlies occupied this land back when there were vast herds of freely roaming bison to provide a steady food supply. Since then, the bison have been replaced by cattle and fences,” he said. “Grizzlies are a fascinating animal, but probably wouldn’t work in a state that’s centered on agriculture and almost entirely privately owned.”

Grizzly bears once occupied much more territory, including vast swaths of the Great Plains.
Grizzly bears once occupied much more territory, including vast swaths of the Great Plains. (Map Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter