Grizzly population, bear conflicts increaseWritten by Echo Renner
In Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and the area parks, the grizzly bear population has increased 17.3 percent from an estimated 508 bears in 2004 to 596 in 2008. Conflicts have increased 6.45 percent during the same time. Bears captured are up 55 percent from 14 bears captured in management actions in 2003 to 31 captured in 2008. Bear mortality in agency management, self-defense, and illegal removal are up 77 percent from 2004 to 2008.
“Causes for increased conflict include the extra heavy snow pack, poor whitebark pine crop, and more bears,” explains Steve Ferrell, Wyoming Game & Fish (WGFD) Department Director.
In 2008, an abundant berry crop across the Yellowstone area provided a good food source, while whitebark pine had a poor year. Human – bear interactions and conflicts are a result of bears seeking unnatural foods in association with people, property, or livestock. The number and location of human-bear conflicts is influenced by unsecured unnatural attractants — human foods, garbage, grain — along with natural food distribution and abundance and human and livestock use patterns on the landscape.
“Human – bear conflicts follows trends in natural foods,” explains WGFD Bear Management Officer Mark Bruscino. “When natural food is not as abundant, human-bear conflicts are more likely. From year to year, it has to do with weather and natural food abundance. Over the long-term, the increase in the number of bears and the increasing number of people using the land leads to more conflicts and more bear mortalities.”
In 2008, there were 20 hunter-related grizzly bear kills, which is higher than normal. Fifteen of those were in self-defense situations, and five were cases of mistaken identity. “We need to do more hunter education,” comments Ferrell.
WGFD says most grizzly bears don’t persistently kill livestock, which is a behavior unique to adult males. Historically, the WGFD has removed a few bears from livestock conflicts. Usually, they move problem bears, collar and monitor them. In 2008, 12 of the 32 grizzly bears captured were from livestock depredation and conflict, and four of the 46 grizzly mortalities in Wyoming were removed in management action for livestock depredation.
“Removing bears for killing livestock is one of smallest categories for management mortalities. Most are caused from bears doing property damage,” says Bruscino. “In open range situations, most of livestock losses from bears occur at night in an open range mountain setting. That makes it difficult to do any prevention or deterrent work. The best thing a producer can do is be alert for losses and report those, so we can get a handle on what is going on, and possibly assist in management effort. If losses are located in time, a producer can also apply for compensation.”
Bruscino says, “With small numbers of livestock closer to the house, guard dogs, or any sort of aggressive dog, can help. In a small pasture setting, electric fence is helpful. A considerable number of bears get into garbage and livestock feed with grain in it, so bear-proof dumpsters help, and so do granaries or strong storage buildings with tight seams, good latches and hinges.”
If grizzly mortalities are at nine percent for adult female grizzlies for two consecutive years, or at 15 percent for adult male grizzlies for two consecutive years, the mortality threshold is met, which triggers a review under the current grizzly bear management plan.
Wyoming, outside Yellowstone National Park, is responsible for 49 percent of the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone area, as Wyoming has the bulk of the bear habitat. Montana, Idaho and the parks are responsible for the remaining population.
Ferrell says there are three lawsuits relating to the grizzly bear pending. All essentially challenge grizzly bear delisting, which took place on April 30, 2007. Two of the cases were filed in Idaho, while one was filed in Judge Malloy’s federal court in Montana. Judge Malloy’s ruling on wolf management last summer prompted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to relist the gray wolf, just months after delisting.