Grizzly bears have been dying at a high rate around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, mostly at the hands of people.
46 grizzly bears have died so far in 2015 around Yellowstone. From mid-September to mid-October, one bear died every other day on average. The current population is estimated at 757 bears across the GYE.
According to Frank van Manen, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, speaking to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the drop in bear numbers is not surprising, given the population’s size and available food supply:
It’s to be expected, at some point,” van Manen said. “You’re going to have a low food year, and that’s partially what we’re experiencing.
“This is not a total failure year for whitebark pine, but it’s certainly not a good year,” he said. “That’s certainly part of the mix, but I think there’s more to it than whitebark pine.”
More anecdotally, other food sources, such as berries, also haven’t fared well this fall, van Manen said.
Both 2013 and 2014, the grizzly scientist pointed out, were good years for survival. Interagency Grizzly Bear Study databases show that total annual mortalities were in the high 20s.
Between 2010 and 2012, however, bear mortalities averaged 50 animals a year. Here, van Manan cited shifts in food supply as a “common denominator.” Van Manen also speculates the rise in bear populations could be a contributing factor, although it has stayed level for the past 15 years.
Food supply and bear numbers aside, the IGBST bear mortality database notes humans were involved in over 80 percent of grizzly bear deaths this year. “Human-caused” killings include both grizzly bears struck by cars as well as bears removed by management for trespasses, property damage, public safety concerns and old age.
Livestock grazing was the leading contributor to grizzly bear removals this year, with 14 bears killed after they were linked to sheep or cattle depredation.
Ten deaths are currently “under investigation,” with eight in Wyoming, one in Montana, and another with no location data. Currently, the ISGBT has not released data regarding how many bears were shot and killed by hunters, accidentally or otherwise. From the Guide:
The mortality data relating to hunting, van Manen said, will be available by the time the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meets Nov. 3 and 4 at Hotel Terra in Teton Village.
One Jackson Hole big game outfitter said that in his experiences grizzlies this fall have been steering clear of trouble with hunters and camps.
“I haven’t had any problems at Pacific Creek, zero,” Swift Creek Outfitters owner B.J. Hill said. “Even in the backcountry, all them Gros Ventre camps, we just haven’t had any problems. And that’s really God dang rare for us.
“People need to understand that this is still a God dang mess,” Hill said. “They’ve eaten themselves out of house and home. There are just too many bears on the land.”
Hill is echoing sentiments reportedly bouncing around Park County and the city of Cody, Wyoming, calling for the delisting of Yellowstone grizzly bears.
Activists and grizzly bear advocates point to the decline in grizzlies as a failure of preservation as well as proof that protection of the GYE should be expanded.
The high mortality count, as well as the number of “under investigation” deaths, is especially disturbing to local grizzly bear activist Lousia Willcox, who also drew attention to the high number of these “under investigation” cases located in Wyoming. Indeed, WyoFile notes Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials are investigating a hunter-grizzly conflict in the Upper Green River Basin that resulted in the most recent grizzly death.
Interestingly, the mortality database also lists the two cubs who were relocated to the Toledo Zoo earlier this year, although the team notes neither of these bears were put down.