Busy Moose-Wilson paved road closed to accommodate GB399, 610 and families-

We have posted a number of stories on the photogenic and often seen extended grizzly family of grizzly bears 399, her adult daughter 610 and their various cubs, including a cub who actually switched (reason unknown) from 399 to 610 last summer.

About a week-and-a-half ago I was in Grand Teton National Park where these bears live most of the time.  I was near Park Headquarters close to the Park’s southern end where the narrow, but paved and busy road from Moose to Wilson leaves the highway.  The sign showed the road closed. No explanation was given.  Instead I drove down the close by gravel road toward the historic Murie property and got out and took a several hour walk cross country through the wonderful cottonwood, aspen, and conifer bottoms.  Little did I know there were 2 sows with their 7 or so cubs in the same area.

In the cottonwood bottoms at the south end of Grand Teton Nation. Copyright Ralph Maughan

I didn’t learn this until I read the Jackson Hole News and Guide.  Grizzly families using Moose-Wilson Road. The seasonal movement could explain how grizzlies expand range. By Cory Hatch.

 

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

20 Responses to GTNP road closed because famous GTNP grizzlies are using it

  1. so . . yours was a successful walk around bears, which we usually never hear about. Great story. I would love to hear more about your walk. . did you march to a destination in the usual human way or did you wander and amble giving all the animals plenty of time to assess you and your mood. Were you alone? Did you have pepper spray?
    Did you investigate things or take pictures and did you move around predictably or did you let the day take you places as things unfolded?

    • Linda Jo Hunter,

      Well the funny thing was that I didn’t know all these grizzlies bears were closely adjacent to me. It is perfect bear habitat and I knew black bears use it, but it is way south for common grizzly use. I didn’t see them or their sign, but when I finally ran into the berry patches I knew it was time to turn around.

      I always carry pepper spray and I try to be very aware of their sign, but I refuse not to hike alone if I please. If a bear gets me, I knew the risk.

      I am of the age where I usually amble rather than charge out with must-get-there destination in mind.

      I have never had to use pepper spray on a bear, but I have pulled it out a number of times for moose and (local) dogs.

  2. avatar Jeff says:

    That is a great area Ralph, I’ve spent some time wondering around the cottonwoods. Elk and moose are quite common—as well as berries. That road has been closed a lot lately, with no warning. It makes for a long reroute from Teton Village to Moose if it is closed unexpectedly.

  3. avatar Cindy says:

    What would be the reasoning behind not stating “bear activity” on the closure sign? Seems like they are asking
    for a problem.

  4. avatar Mike says:

    I like this. I wish this is how most heavy bear activity was handled. Glacier should have shut down Oldman Lake campground instead of killing the mother and cub.

  5. avatar TetonBadger says:

    Ralph, its nice to hear you were down in our country. I hope you had fun.

    For more clarification. 610 & 399 are using the Moose-Wilson certainly but they are also leaving the area and going north (I suspect to check out hunters gut piles on the snake) quite a bit as well. Because I cant really see our usual black bears we almost always see on the Moose-Wilson road in the fall (“Gringo and Obsidian” and others) I am not sure what they are doing and they may have well gone elsewhere to avoid the Griz but if so I am not seeing them anywhere nearby. It is quite possible that the particularly crafty Gringo is just keeping his distance but still using the road too.

    The park has closed down the Moose-Wilson for weeks meaning I spend 3 hours a day going the long way around to get into the park (I work in the park but am based in Teton Village) I have mixed emotions about this. Particularly when I see the Griz in question nowhere near the closed road, but I don’t know if the park always gets the same chances to keep track of them like I do, so maybe they just don’t always know they are gone, or I don’t know the whole story. You have too keep in mind the pressure I suspect Grand Teton and Yellowstone are under to keep any further bear attacks from occurring this year.

    On the one hand I have dedicated my career to the grizzlys of Grand Teton and my first interest is their and human safety, not my ability to see them. So I absolutely think the closure of the road when 610 was literally walking down it was prudent. There is no way to maintain appropriate distance from grizzlys on that road, particularly with crowds.

    On the other hand I realize the Moose-Wilson is not a good place for Grizzlys to be, no good will come in the long run of having griz there. I worry that the use of that road will get them killed by cars, or worse in the case of 610 for aggression. That road is a major road in Grand Teton and I wonder if perhaps we should not encourage grizzlys to use it, black bears cause enough trouble there for the park and they are much safer when people are stupid about getting too close (as in 10 feet quite often!)

    Would my life be easier if I had griz 5 minutes away from Teton Village to go show people every day, oh my yes! but is that in the bears best interest? I am pretty sure it would not end in the best way for the bears involved and I care far more about that. The opportunity for car hits, food rewards and crowd aggression is very high and I think perhaps the park is better suited to using techniques to make grizzly bears avoid the area. As much as I wish griz could live anywhere they want I know that is not always possible, I would be devastated to see these two and the cubs killed for someones stupidity.

    Which is not to say we cant have Griz in south Jackson Hole, just maybe not in such a highly developed area as the Moose Wilson. I am pleased to see the population moving south but have become too attached to these two and the cubs to see them loose it all now just because of some particularly good berry crops this year. 610 (610’s sister) was already shot, 587 (610’s brother) was moved for using human areas and bird feeders, cant we just keep 399 and 610 from further harm?

  6. We just returned from Wilson and spent a bit of time in Moose. Road was closed last week, again without any notice about bears, but rather a sign saying dead end ahead 12 miles. We should applaud the Superintendent of GTNP for this and her criticism of WY wolf hunting proposals. Seems like she has guts and does not cave into local pressure and elected officials. Let’s hope it lasts.

    I have absolutely no complaints of having to drive from the Wilson-Teton Village Road back to Jackson and then up to Moose (good lunch, great views), if it means griz live on.

    I agree not advertizing that the road was closed because of griz bears – that might be an “attractant” for thrill seekers and those that imagine themselves as wildlife photographers, that can do no harm to the bears… or themselves.

    We spoke to Henry Holdsworth, a professional photographer who cares for the animals that he portrays, and he was aware of the closure because of berry-gathering griz… and had no complaints.

    Brings to mind the time when I worked in Cody, WY in the 1980s for WY F&G and while off fishing with a buddy in the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, we came upon a mother griz with her two cubs. It was sunset, my truck was parked above the canyon and we were between the sow and her cubs, smelling like fish. We carefully got out of that one, she reunited with her cubs. She must have been quite large because her cubs in comparison looked like “poodle size” or perhaps 50 lbs. According to the Cody bear biologist they were more like 150 lbs and he was glad she was still with her cubs – apparently not that reliable of a mom. Anyway about a week or so later the same sow, without cubs was shot by the Park Service and WF&G supposedly because she had “mauled” a man from Montana – and he might have still been alive. True story – she was caching half his dead body for future feeding… but NPS and WY G&F really did not want any griz in Yellowstone that had tasted humans – easier to get than elk and the other white meat. Seems like the dead person, dressed in camos had photographed his own death… throwing rocks so he could get a picture of a griz standing, looking fierce. This amateur was an auto mechanic from Montana – I recall.

    I really applaud managing humans when griz are active and concentrated – that’s why I always appreciated camping and netting fish in the Big Horn Mountains as opposed to the Absarokas – where the year I was there, there was a late frost that wiped out the berry crop and there was an off year for moths and pines. I think I saw more than 14 griz in a two-week period in the backcountry as well as other visible bears along the rivers along the Cody Entrance and in the park. I even ran into the “bad bear” biologists two or three times in the middle of nowhere and Cary Hunt wanted to know if I had any fish heads or guts to help lure bears in for behavior modification lessons – teach them humans are bad news by shooting them with glass vials of water. Now she has moved on to Kerulian bear dogs and other methods of aversion behavior mod to help keep griz (and black) bears alive.

    anyway…. thanks to GTNP for closing the road and inconveniencing me. I appreciate it…for the bears.

  7. avatar TetonBadger says:

    oops sorry I meant “615 (610′s sister) was already shot”

    my apologies

  8. avatar Alan says:

    This is really a catch 22 for the Park Service. It could be a potentially dangerous situation having people hike around the woods in this area unaware, and unwarned, that there are nine grizzly bears nearby. But….if they post the reason that the road is closed, you could have even more people crawling around the area hoping to catch a glimpse, or photo, of these bears. Everyone is looking for these bears, no point in pointing them out; though I am absolutely positive that the locals know exactly where they are. These poor bears can’t get a break until they den up.
    I am a photographer, but I have steadfastly refused from the very start to photograph these bears. There are so many wonderful things to photograph in the GYE, from chipmunks to bison and otters to birds, as well as some of the most beautiful country in the world, without hounding these poor bears from the moment they leave the den until they enter it; getting pretty much the same shots as dozens of other people.

  9. avatar Kayla says:

    Now personally I celebrate and support the NPS for closing the Moose-Wilson Road for these Grizzlies. There were some local photographers who were really upset with this decision. It really gladdens my heart that now grizzlies are coming into this Moose-Wilson Road area and expanding there range. Woohoo! Go Grizzlies! When I called the park service at Moose and told them I supported their decision. They were really happy to hear of my support for they had received quite abit of negative complaints because of this.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Kayla,

      I agree. I am pleased they closed this road, even though it is a busy scenic by-way to help the bears. They will move on and it will be open again. I’m happy the grizzlies are moving southward. We are going to have trouble with livestock interests though, But as for me, I am tired of this 1% dictating to the rest of us.

  10. avatar Jared says:

    My biggest concern for the black and grizzlies of GTNP is their habituation to the road side. The Moose-Wilson is wonderful habitat for so many creatures. With the road closed the bears continue to learn that this corridor is prime for feeding and travel. A few weeks back I was returning to Wilson late at night with heavy snow. I rounded the corner following 4 sets of paw prints. 610 was standing on her hind feet eating Hawthornes. She never even dropped to all fours as I drove by. Unfortunately, these bears are way too comfortable with roads, cars and people.

  11. avatar Jeff says:

    You feel like a jerk for doing it, but laying on the horn and “bluff charging” them with your car might be in their best interest. There are a lot of reports of grizzlies by hunters this year significantly south of Teton Village. There is a sow w/2 cubs in the Snake River Canyon near the Elbow and there is at least one sow with cubs just south of Teton Pass. These forest bears seem to be a lot more wild and obviously less human tolerant than the park bears to the north.

  12. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    This piece of the country known as “Asphalt” ought to be shuttered forever. What a signal that would send to those who choose to burn gasoline rather than calories.

  13. avatar Alan says:

    The Moose-Wilson road is a tough one. It is lined with thousands of wild berry bushes. Expecting bears (road bears or not) to stay away in the fall when they are full of fruit is kind of like expecting that bison will not migrate into the Gardiner basin in late winter. Animals are going to go where the food is. Perhaps closing this road on an annual basis for a few weeks is in Grand Teton’s future. If so I would assume that it would only make sense to close it to hiking as well. Too bad. There are just too many people.

  14. avatar Jeff says:

    A hunter was mauled today on Blacktail Butte in GTNP. He surprised a bear on a carcass. Bear identity/species unknown at this point. I’m sure details will be forthcoming.

  15. avatar Jeff says:

    It was Blacktail Ponds in the river bottom not Blacktail Butte as I originally heard. The ponds are just north and west across the highway from the north end of the butte. This is right where Ditch Creek flows into the Snake on the east bank of the river. The hunter did not see any cubs, though this is only a couple of miles from where 399 and 610 have been for the past couple of weeks. I did hear that the bear was small, supposedly they are doing DNA tests on hair recovered from his wounds.

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