Yellowstone Ecosystem Grizzly Population Doing Well In 2008, But Bear Fatalities Pose Potential For Concern

Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bear population doing OK (but bear mortality up)-
Male grizzly death limits have been exceeded this year-

BOZEMAN – The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) comprised of state and federal agencies that monitor grizzly bear population trends in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, reports there were 44 unduplicated females with cubs of the year counted in the Yellowstone Ecosystem during 2008.  There were 84 cubs observed with these 44 females during initial observations. Numbers of unique females with cubs tend to decrease in years following good cub production.  Fifty females were counted in 2007, the second highest ever recorded, so the slight decline in 2008 was anticipated.

Population estimates are derived from counts of females with cubs.  This year’s estimate of 596 bears was
higher than last years estimate of 571.  Trend information suggests the population continues to grow at about 4% annually.
The IGBST also reports that the mortality threshold for grizzly bears has been exceeded.  “This year is turning
out to be a particularly bad year for grizzly bear mortality in the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” said Chuck Schwartz, leader of the study team. Schwartz indicated that 39 bears have died this year, including 7 anagement removals, 17 associated with hunting, 6 from natural causes, 5 from other human activities, and 4 where cause of death could not be determined.  Two additional bears were reported as being wounded, but could not be confirmed as dead” Schwartz noted that the male mortality limits have been exceeded and that female limits could be exceeded if an additional female bear is shot by a hunter.  If both male and female mortality limits are exceeded in 2008, this will be the first year that these limits have been exceeded since 2000.   Schwartz said, “We still have 2-4 weeks when bears will be out of their dens actively feeding during an on going deer and elk hunting season.  We encourage hunters to be especially careful this year.  We can’t afford to lose any more bears if at all possible!”

Seeds from whitebark pine cones are an important fall food for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  The whitebark pine cone crop was poor throughout the ecosystem this fall.  As a result, grizzly bears are searching for alternative foods, which may include elk and deer meat.  Hunters should be aware of this and make every effort to avoid encounters with grizzly bears.  To date, there have been several conflicts between grizzly bears and hunters and two have resulted in human injuries.  Hunters must make every effort to secure their game meat the same day they harvest it, and at a minimum try to hang the carcass away from the gut pile.  In many situations involving a close encounter, bear spray is an effective alternative to deadly force.  Hunters should also try to avoid hunting alone.  Securing food and keeping a clean camp are a must this year!

The Yellowstone grizzly bear was delisted in April, 2007.  The Conservation Strategy which guides management of grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone area established mortality limits for male and female bears.  If female limits are exceeded in 2 consecutive years or 3 consecutive years for males, the strategy requires the managing agencies and the study team to complete a biology and management review.  Neither the male or female limits have been exceeded for consecutive years; however it is important that every effort is made to reduce any additional mortalities in 2008. The review would determine the causes and consequences of exceeding mortality limits and make recommendations to the agencies on how to minimize them.  If limits are continually exceeded it could result in a relisting of the bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Yellowstone Grizzly Coordinating Committee (YGCC), formally Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee, will hold their annual fall meeting in conjunction with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, November 12-14 at the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort, West Yellowstone, Montana.  The YGCC includes representatives from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks; the Shoshone, Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee, Gallatin, Beaverhead-Deerlodge, and Custer National Forests; the wildlife management agencies of the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the U.S. Geological Survey.






  1. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
    Peter Kiermeir

    Is the population really doing well when at the end comes the desperate plea to hunters that we cannot afford to loose another bear! Normal natural causes of death are of no concern as long as no anomalities show up and I won´t question the “management removals” . Further, always thinking positive, I will add the undetermined causes to the number of natural causes. My concern are the 17 individuals that ended up in front of somebodys fireplace after being photographed with a grinning “hero” putting his boot on their necks, plus the two wounded (at least they are spared the boot and the grin) plus the one´s that fell victim to “other human activity”.

  2. Jon Way Avatar

    It should be a requirement that hunters carry bear spray, or they aren’t allowed to hunt… How many warnings have to be given that bear spray is more effective at close range.

  3. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    John–Two studies on bear spray–real peer-reviewed, published “research” on bear spray–tells us that bear spray works for non-hunters. There’s no peer-reviewed, published data on the effectiveness of firearms for self-defense from bears. When Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader Chuck Schwartz reviewed 24 cases when hunters in Wyoming got charged by a grizzly, they all said it happened incredibly fast. They shot the bear with the gun in their hands. So what little anecdotal evidence we have tells us there’s no time for hunters charged by a grizzly to use bear spray.

  4. Ter Avatar

    The US Fish and Wildlife Service has reviewed human/bear encounters and the use of pepper spray versus firearms in these encounters. While I couldn’t find any data specifically on hunters, the link is worth a look. I seriously doubt that there is no time for hunters to use bear spray. Any time a bear charges, it happens fast. It’s just a matter of having pepper spray in an easy-to-access place so that you can fire it.

    While the study above is not peer-reviewed, it’s still valuable information. I would recommend that all hunters carry both pepper spray AND their weapon. And know how to use both in a potential grizzly encounter – if they want to hunt in grizzly country. Pepper spray is much easier to use than a gun, and then both the hunter and the bear live to hunt another day.

  5. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Bear spray is not a realistic option for big game hunters charged by a grizzly, so in the interest of public safely, I think the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the state fish and game deparments should be required to provide hunters with meaningful information on how to use rifles for self defense during a worst case scenario with a grizzly.

    State and federal agencies tell people their bear spray should weigh at least 7.9 oz, spray at least 25 feet, ect., so the agencies need to make a recommendation on the minimum caliber rifle hunters should carry in grizzly country–say a .308 Winchester.

    State and federal agencies tell people with bear spray to spray when bears are 30-50 feet away, so they should also tell hunters when to shoot at charging grizzlies: 100 feet, 75 feet, 15-21 feet, whatever.

    State and federal agencies tell people with bear spray where to aim their bear spray at charging grizzlies; they should also tell hunters where to place their bullet.

    State and federal agencies tell people to have bear spray quickly accessible in a hip holster or chest harness; they should tell hunters to carry their rifle in a two-hand safe carry, a round in the chamber, safety on. If you’ve got a rifle slung over your shoulder, you won’t have time to use it if you get charged by a grizzly.

    “It is recommended that hunters mentally rehearse a worst-case scenario with grizzly bears.” Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, “How to hunt safely in grizzly country”

  6. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Ask Ralph to give you my email address, I have some information to pass on to you.

  7. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    A few words on the grizzly population and this year’s mortality. To get Yellowstone grizzlies delisted while Bush was in office, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery co-ordinator Chris Servheen essentially cooked the books/used new math to produce a huge increase in the bear population. I don’t have the exact numbers, but one minute 50 verified sightings of sows with cubs gave Yellowstone 457 bears, the next minute 50 sightings of cubs gave Yellowstone 681 bears. This is a matter of public record. Servheen and the panel of biologists who did the new math can’t explain it to a layperson, you just have to trust them. That’s the bad news.

    The good news is, the way they decided to calculate grizzly bear mortality is ultra-conservative. For every known mortality, they assume 2 unknown mortalities, or something like that. There probably aren’t that many dead bears, but it gives them a cushion to offset the optomistic population count.

    The number of grizzly bear mortalities this year is cause for concern. The larger issue is, we should have protected more habitat so we could have a bigger bear population and a bigger cushion. Servheen has put Yellowstone grizzlies in a fishbowl, and, long-term, only 500 grizzlies can survive in Servheen’s tiny little fishbowl.

  8. Mike Avatar

    I have to agree with Jon Way a bit on this. If you want to hunt in grizzly country in Montana and Wyoming, bear spray should be a requirement as well as passing a bear identification test.

  9. Mike Avatar

    I have to say this this fall was the worst I’ve seen in terms of bear numbers period. Dunraven Pass was empty of bears at the end of September.

    For those who went in October, did they ever show up at the pass for the whitebark pine crop?

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’m in Yellowstone right now. I haven’t seen any bears, but then I’m been geyser watching and hiking on the Central Plateau.

    I’ve heard that there are bears in the Lamar, and they are quickly stealing the wolf kills, adding to the stress on wolves as well as interspecies strife. There wasn’t much of a whitebark pine nut “crop.”

    I hope to know more in a few days.

  11. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Mike, Jon–why require big game hunters buy a $40 can of bear spray and carry it around? Will it protect hunters who startle a nearby grizzly and are forced to shoot the bear in self defense? No. Will it protect bears from being shot? No. Why bother? What’s the point?

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Big game hunters, while on the hunt, do not spend most of their time holding their rifle in their hands ready to shoot that deer or elk, or suddenly rushing grizzly bear, when indeed the rifle might be the best choice.

    During most of a given 24 hour period in grizzly country their rifle is probably not even on their body.

  13. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    There are quite a few grizzlies in the Hayden Valley area. I saw three today. One had taken an elk away from the Mollie’s Pack (13 wolves)and one was following the Canyon Pack(5 wolves) as it hunted elk. I suspect there is a Grizzly tracking every wolf pack in the park.
    Other photographers and visitors are seeing Grizzlies near Fishing Bridge and Twin Lakes. I am seeing Grizzlies every day and started carrying two cans of bear spray. The Grizzlies I am seeing are very fat and look like they are doing very well. I saw one fat Grizzly near Canyon Village this morning with an ugly yellow radio collar that looked a little tight and uncomfortable.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for the from the field update, Larry!

  15. Mike Avatar

    Wow awesome update Larry and Ralph. Thanks.

    Sounds like things are reallly cranking along in Yellowstone right now. The wildlife was very quiet when I was out there in late September.

    Chuck –

    I think hunters in grizzly areas should apply for some sort of bear spray discount included in their tag. Wouldn’t mind seeing Idaho, Wyoming and Montana buying bear spray in bulk and making it available to those with big game tags. It seems hunters really do some damage on grizzly bears, wether intentional or in self defense or just plain inability to properly identifiy a bear before shooting it.

  16. Mike Avatar

    17 bears were killed by hunters in NW Wyoming alone this year:

  17. Jon Way Avatar

    I agree with Ralph. It is unlikely that a hunter will constantly have a rifle ready in position to shoot it on a moment’s notice. Bear spray is on your hip and when I hike in bear country it would take me only a second or so to get it into a usable position. I can’t imagine using a gun being much quicker than that unless I have the safety off and am ready to fire right then.

  18. Ter Avatar

    Why carry a $40 can of bear pepper spray as a big game hunter? Because it could save your life.

  19. Miensa Avatar

    Dave (Chuck Parker), the research cited that those hunters that had bear encounters were HIKING to either their camps or to their preferred destination to take down game. They were hikers at that time. Not holding a gun in both hands or at least shouldn’t have been, walking to a destination. They were HIKING.

  20. Miensa Avatar

    “Mike, Jon–why require big game hunters buy a $40 can of bear spray and carry it around? Will it protect hunters who startle a nearby grizzly and are forced to shoot the bear in self defense? No. Will it protect bears from being shot? No. Why bother? What’s the point?”
    The point is Dave, that hunters usually travel in groups. Some alone but let’s use the group situation. Now the last few attacks have been with 2 or more people. Let’s say a Grizz takes down one of your pals. Your pal is freaking out, fighting a bear and rolling around on the ground. You have a choice. You are a responsible hunter and you have your gun yes, but you have also purchased some bear spray. Which will you use???? The gun? If you miss you piss the bear off. He comes at you, leaves your friend writhing on the ground and rips your face off. If you miss, you are very likely to hit your pal there on the ground. You choose the bear spray. The bear is startled by the noise, takes in a big breath of spray, starts after you, maybe gets in one swipe and realizes he can’t breath or see. Two things bears rely mostly on. He high tails it in the other direction and you take the rest of the “attacked by a bear” protocol actions.

  21. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Miensa/Bartlebaugh–About that “research” on the hunters actually being Hikers . . . In 2006, biologist Chuck Schwartz, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, reviewed 24 cases where hunters in Wyoming were charged by grizzlies. He told the Casper Star-Tribune “hunters have guns in their hands, not pepper spray. A quiet hunter can surprise a bear, and the resultant charge gives hunters scant seconds to switch from gun to pepper spray canister. ‘Time and again, hunters said it happened so fast that when they shot, the bear fell right at their feet.” (Feb.8,2006, Lessons from hunter/griz encounters)

    This is not peer-reviewed published “research,” but it does tell us that bear spray is generally not a realistic option for hunters in the field. There’s no peer-reviewed, published research that suggests bear spray is a realistic option for hunters charged by grizzlies. There are no informal studies or reports that tell us bear spray is a realistic option for hunters charged by grizzlies.

    I realize bear spray would be a better bet than a firearm in some situations–bear approaching a hunting camp–but for a classic surprise encounter with a nearby grizzly, bear spray is rarely an option, so hunters need to know how to use their gun. The failure of the Center For Wildlife Information and the ID, MT, WY fish and game departments to provide hunters with any meaningful information on how to use guns for self-defense during bear encounters is criminal negligence.

  22. Miensa Avatar

    I ask myself, “do I want to do this?”
    Dave, Let’s leave the research out of this for now and just focus on common sense.
    “He told the Casper Star-Tribune “hunters have guns in their hands, not pepper spray.” I think when he stated this he was using it figuratively. Hunters have guns. This is my opinion. But yes, while sneaking around I can assume they have their guns at the ready. While I believe this is highly understandable the most important part of that article is that hunters become acclimated to using the spray as opposed to a gun while, and this is stated in article, in camp, dealing with a carcass, etc… Hunters will use what they are most comfortable with, no doubt. The Center for Wildlife Information, a very good organization, by the way, deems that teaching hunters to become confident in the use of bear spray will in turn allow hunters to have two options in lieu of only one. There are certain situations while hunter where bear spray is the very best option. For both hunters and bears. The article also cites that most incidences occur in camp, “Of those 39 cases, six grizzlies were killed in a hunting camp, nine were killed in conflicts over elk carcasses, and 24 were killed when hunters and bears surprised each other in the field and the bears charged.” That’s 54 times a bear COULD have been saved. I would think that for these situations alone CWI and Chuck would agree that their advocacy of bear spray use is why they insist on educating hunters on the use of bear spray. Now, those incidences where hunters have accidentally encountered a bear while in the process of actual hunting. Many times the situation has been that someone in the hunting party is attacked first and hunters within the group panic and shoot at the bear with the bear running in the other direction or refocusing his attack onto the shooter. People are mauled and a wounded bear is on the loose. That is a very realistic outcome. During all of this someone in the party might lessen this outcome by pulling out his bear spray and giving it a whirl. There are many positives to this scenario. One, your friend doesn’t accidentally become a target. Two, a bear stays alive. No matter that some hunters think that by shooting a bear it is teaching other bears to become wary of humans. That’s just not true. A dead bear can’t pass on this information. Three, a bear isn’t wandering around wounded. Four, the hunter has gained experience and will tell other people. Most hunters are pretty savvy and want to do the right thing they just need confidence. That is what CWI is trying to relay. A lot of “classic” surprise encounters happen between hikers and bears and yet there are so few of these encounters that end up with either hiker or bear suffering any consequence. If, “so hunters need to know how to use their gun. The failure of the Center For Wildlife Information and the ID, MT, WY fish and game departments to provide hunters with any meaningful information on how to use guns for self-defense during bear encounters is criminal negligence”, this statement is true, then already there is a problem. Hunters should already know how to use a gun. If this is the case and they are going out on a hunt to establish experience with their gun, then why can’t they also at the same time, establish that experience with bear spray? At least gain some confidence in using both. Hunters carry knives, just in case right. Rarely using the knife on a bear, same with their guns, same with bear spray. Whether they are conditioned to use any of these weapons they should have options. Bear spray should also be up for as an option. How can you say, ” The failure of the Center For Wildlife Information and the ID, MT, WY fish and game departments to provide hunters with any meaningful information on how to use guns for self-defense during bear encounters is criminal negligence.”? That’s ridiculous and you know it. It isn’t their jib to teach hunters how to use a gun. Every bear encounter is different. If they are to teach one or two ways and then those hunters go out and get mauled because one of the ways didn’t work, that’s criminal negligence. That’s a can of worms. It is the responsibility of the hunter to acquire skills, pass a test, and get a licence, thereby the hunter assumes all responsibility of his actions out in the field. CWI and game departments simply want to allocate to hunters other options and what they believe may work better given the situation of the encounter. If we go by what you are saying then we can also assume that if a hunter injures a bear and the bear is on the loose that the hunter is responsible for any domino effect this bear may attempt to cause in the future due to his injuries.
    I am not Chuck btw, I highly advocate his work considering he is sick, broke and hardly ever receives or expects any accolades for his work. He does extremely important work for bears regardless of all of the crap he has to take from other people. He trudges along and never looks back. His best interest is for bears. I don’t know why you have zeroed in on his organization or squeezed him into your assumption on state F & W departments.

  23. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
    Peter Kiermeir

    You are always assuming that gun carrying hunter but I learnt that quite many hunters are running through the woods “Robin Hood style” with bow and arrows. Just imagine one of these facing an angry griz and trying to fiddle an arrow onto his bow….

  24. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    I’m skeptical about the argument that bear spray reduces grizzly mortality in the Yellowstone region. Every year, the number of bears entering hunting camps is dropping, so bear spray isn’t much of a factor there. Bear spray is a non-factor when hunters get charged by grizzlies because it’s not practical or realistic for hunters to use it.

    If the Center For Wildlife Info and the state fish & game departments can give hunters information and training on how to use bear spray during surprise encounters with bears, they can and should do the same for firearms. It ain’t like shooting a rabbit–as Herrero points out, shooting at charging grizzlies is combat shooting. Hunters need help with this specific, life-threatening situation, and telling them to carry bear spray and know how to use it is insane.

    Here’s a fun fact–I’ve gathered a bit of data on backcountry injuries by bears in national parks over the past 25 years and do you know what? Backcountry use has been gradually declining, yet the number of human injuries is rising. The more people turn off their brains and rely on bear spray for protection, the more people get injured by bears.

  25. Miensa Avatar

    I don’t think bear spray is the reason people have brain freeze. I think people are just hiking or hunting and not thinking of encounters with bears. Human injuries are rising because bears are being forced out of their territories due to developement or poor food source crop and going into more populated areas looking for food or pathways.

  26. Miensa Avatar

    Peter, this scenario just happened with a father and son whereas I truely believe bear spray would have been very useful in this situation.

  27. Miensa Avatar

    I am intrigued with this conversation but lo, I have to step out for a few hours.

  28. Miensa Avatar

    But I want to leave you with this,

    Do you think this guys legs could have been “less mauled” if he had bear spray or used his gun? Since he did have a gun it’s obvious he was in no mental condition to use it but just for the sake of it, which would you have used?

  29. Julianne Avatar

    I saw an article a few days ago saying that a 20 year old sow was killled byMT FWP a few days ago just north of YNP–Beatty Gulch area. Apparently, she had been part of last year’s bear charging problems up Beatty Gulch, and this year she was aggressive toward some people who startled her in their yards. YNP has agreed to take the 3 cubs (I think they are yearlings and I assume they will be placed in the park somewhere). My question is: with this ‘one more female death’, has the top number for sow grizzly deaths been exceeded?

  30. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Since the article provides no information on the circumstances during the attack, I have no idea if I would have used bear spray or a gun. But that doesn’t stop you from claiming “it’s obvious [the victim] was in no mental condition to use” a gun. Your comment helps justify my contention that there’s a bear spray cult filled with fanatical true believers.

  31. Miensa Avatar


  32. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Miensa–care to discuss the “research” on bear spray vs bullets, or is that one of those topics that’s off-limits for the bear spray cult?

  33. miensa Avatar

    I think someone else is looking forward to that, I’ll let them do the honors.

  34. miensa Avatar

    I think state F & S should teach bears how to use bear spray.

  35. miensa Avatar

    Julianne, I believe for this year sow mortalities have gone over the limit. I also believe that this has to occur for three years in a row before any action is taken. What they will do I have no idea. I suppose relist but that should already be happening.

  36. miensa Avatar

    “Here’s a fun fact–I’ve gathered a bit of data on backcountry injuries by bears in national parks over the past 25 years and do you know what? Backcountry use has been gradually declining, yet the number of human injuries is rising. The more people turn off their brains and rely on bear spray for protection, the more people get injured by bears.”
    Not a fact and most people who are mauled or killed were not carrying bear spray.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan