Brown Bear at Brookfield Zoo
This past January, the Chicago Zoological Society named Dr. Chris Servheen as its 2008 George B. Rabb Conservation Award recipient. The Award was created in 2005 by the Board of Trustees of CZS to honor the lifelong legacy of animal welfare and worldwide conservation leadership of George Rabb, Ph.D., president emeritus of the Chicago Zoological Society.
Servheen, a mammalogist and wildlife biologist at The University of Montana and the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), was honored at a recognition dinner for his landmark work on grizzly bear ecology and conservation in the Mission Mountains and the northwestern Montana wilderness.
Bringing the Bears Back
In addition to receiving the George B. Rabb Conservation Award, Servheen also recently was recognized with the Department of the Interior's Meritorious Service Award, the second-highest award presented by the department, for his work coordinating the federal government’s efforts to bring the grizzly bear back from near-extinction in the West.
As grizzly bear recovery coordinator for USFWS for the past 23 years, Servheen has worked tirelessly to set high standards for bear conservation. When he first started with the agency, there were perhaps a few hundred grizzlies in the Yellowstone area. Today, there are nearly twice that number. “We have more bears having more cubs,” he says, “and we have bears in places where they haven’t been in fifty years.”
Servheen has made significant contributions to bear conservation throughout the lower forty-eight states, organizing subcommittees for federal, state, and private participants, spearheading conferences on landowner initiatives in conserving bear habitats, and serving as an advisor to many land management agencies. He has also advised numerous private and public sector conservation groups, including Vital Ground and The Nature Conservancy.
Servheen also has been heavily involved with the World Conservation Union and served as co-chair of the Species Survival Commission/IUCN Bear Specialist Group, for whom he helped develop the International Bear Action Plan. He is well-known internationally for all this, as well as for his work combating the illegal traffic in bear parts.
Keeping Up With Change
Servheen has found that the biggest threat to grizzlies in the wild is the sprawl of human development, with highways and new construction quickly eating up large expanses of land that is the bears’ natural habitat. While it’s not possible to stop human development, he’s trying to do the next best thing: studying the negative impact development has on grizzly populations, and working to reverse it by making sure grizzlies are able to safely cross new roads and Interstates, and therefore maintain their current habitats.
Servheen has also taken advantage of new advancements in technology to better study and address the changing needs of grizzly bear populations, including the use of unobtrusive Global Positioning System collars. When placed on grizzly bears in the wild, these collars yield a wealth of information about how the animals change their movements and habits in response to human activity and development.