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Following Record Year Of Yellowstone Grizzly Deaths, Officials Discuss Conflict Solutions

A grizzly bear sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park, 2016.
Yellowstone National Park/public domain
A grizzly bear sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park, 2016.

Following Record Year Of Yellowstone Grizzly Deaths, Officials Discuss Conflict Solutions

Following a record year of deaths for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone, state and federal wildlife managers met in Bozeman this week to discuss efforts to reduce conflicts with humans. 

Sixty-five grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park died last year, mostly due to humans. It’s part of an upward trend that prompted members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee to update their decade-old recommendations for grizzly bear management and ways to prevent conflicts.

Wildlife managers from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming gathered Wednesday and Thursday for IGBC’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee. The subcommittee has recommendations from 2009, but a lot has changed since then. The grizzly population continues to grow – from 150 bears in the 1970s to 700 today – and has started moving from federal lands to private property.

Last summer, Wyoming and Idaho were preparing for grizzly bear hunts after the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Yellowstone population from the threatened species list under the Endangered Species Act. A federal judge restored protections and removed hunting as a management tool. Now the FWS, several state agencies and special interest groups are considering appealing that decision.

“I believe the Fish and Wildlife brief is not due until later May,” said Hilary Cooley, the Grizzly Bear Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

While Idaho only issued one hunting permit, Wyoming would have allowed up to 22 bears to be killed in the area east and south of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Dan Thompson heads up the Large Carnivore Section of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He was in close communication with the hunters when the judge stopped the hunting season.

“There were some people that were more surprised than others, I think. But there were some people who have been involved for a long time and kind of expected it. But there was frustration and disappointment and a lot of people wanted to know what options they had to fight it and things like that,” said Thompson.

Wyoming residents paid $600 for a hunting license; for non-residents, it was $6,000. Thompson said they gave everyone the option of receiving a refund or retaining the license for a 12-month period in case there is a hunt next fall. During his presentation, Thompson said Wyoming officials went around the state to find out how the public view grizzly bear management.

“When we’re dealing with large carnivores, including grizzly bears, there’s a large spectrum, but we’re seeing some more polarity when it comes to grizzly bears,” said Thompson.

Last September officials trapped and relocated a grizzly bear that showed up near a Dairy Queen in Cody, Wyoming. Around the same time, authorities killed two bears that fatally attacked a hunting guide in a wilderness area east of Grand Teton National Park. Thompson said the main conflicts are with cattle, but between 2014 and 2018, there were four cases of bears killing or injuring humans in Wyoming.

Thompson said, “The difference between the number of conflicts and the bears we actually capture, relocate, remove is always prevention and education we try to do.” 

In 2018, Wyoming Game and Fish helped the city of Cody put up a permanent electric fence around its landfill. They sponsored bear spray giveaways in communities and gave every hunter a pamphlet with bear safety information. The agency also has a program to reimburse producers for any killed, injured or missing livestock and a Predator Attack Team – trained personnel who can respond to wildlife attacks of humans.

The subcommittee plans on updating its recommendations for grizzly bear management and conflict prevention for the next IGBC meeting this fall.

Copyright 2019 Yellowstone Public Radio

Rachel is a UM grad working in the MTPR news department.
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