The federal government is considering a plan to transplant grizzlies into theYellowstone area to keep the population in the park genetically sound, a bear specialist says.
Transplanting bears into Yellowstone could solve potential genetic problems caused by inbreeding in small, isolated populations of animals, said Chris Servheen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Yellowstone's grizzly population is both small and isolated enough to prompt worries about genetics among bear managers. To keep the gene pool diverse and healthy, Servheen said the government is considering a program to lift grizzlies from other areas into the Yellowstone community.
The program may mean the transplant of only one bear a decade, he said, and several years of research are still needed before the program could get under way.
Special attention is being paid to the Yellowstone bear because the animals are on the endangered species list and the government is mandated to protect them.
"We are concerned about reproduction in isolated populations," said Bruce A. Wilcox, director of biological sciences at Stanford University. "In Yellowstone, given enough time, we would expect to see this loss."
Servheen cautioned there is no proof Yellowstone's grizzlies have suffered from a limited gene pool.
"There is no evidence of a genetic problem," he said. "We want to ensure there isn't one in the long term. We don't want to have to demonstrate it. It's real subtle. It's hard to link genes with problems."
Genetic isolation and inbreeding can cause a lower than normal birth rate, he said.
"Given these theoretical concerns, we would like to be proactive," he said. "We've got to get in front of the ball."
The ideal bear to transplant, he said, would be a female bear that has not reached adulthood. At a younger age, the bear is less likely to try to return to its original home.