"We call these vandal killings," says Chris Servheen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator, "people who just kill things and let them lay." He’s talking about the 11 grizzly bears that were killed illegally last year in northwestern Montana; one was poisoned and the rest were shot or otherwise killed. In 2004, people illegally killed 10 grizzlies in the region, which is home to about 500 bears (HCN, 10/17/05: Handling grizzlies: How much is enough?).

The Fish and Wildlife Service has little information about the killings, but says most occur where public and private lands meet. The Wildlife Service and the Montana Department of Game and Fish jointly plan to increase rewards for information to between $5,000 and $10,000.

In 2004, people killed 54 grizzlies in the Lower 48 states — making it the worst year for human-caused deaths since the bear was listed as endangered in 1975, according to Louisa Willcox, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s bear project. Even though they’re protected, Willcox says, grizzlies still suffer high mortality due to road building, poaching, hunters mistaking them for black bears, and agencies killing problem bears.

Nontheless, Interior Secretary Gale Norton believes that Yellowstone’s grizzly population — now estimated at more than 600 bears — has recovered sufficiently from its low of a couple hundred during the early 1970s. And on Nov. 15, she announced plans to boot the region’s bears off the endangered species list (HCN, 9/19/05: Yellowstone’s Grizzlies Not out of the woods yet) (HCN, 9/19/05: Yellowstone's Grizzlies A success story). The delisting proposal is online at http://tinyurl.com/8x74w. The public comment deadline is Feb. 15.