Greater Yellowstone grizzly debate heats up-

So, we’re back to an old controversy; what is the true population and its trend?

Greater Yellowstone grizzly debate heats up. By Chris Merrill. Casper Star Tribune.

I know Dave Moody (trophy game coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department) couldn’t possibly be right about the poor whiteback pine nut crop being part of a natural cycle. It’s well known the whitebark pine trees have largely died. There are a variety of reasons, but this is not part of a cycle. It is the end of the nuts as a major food source.





  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Here’s a copy of the letter I sent to the reporter this morning after reading this story. I agree with Ralph that the whitebark pine mortality we’re seeing in the GYE and the Rocky Mountains is not part of a natural cycle, but a consequence of irreversible climate change. This puts intolerable pressure on grizzly bears.


    Good story this morning, but Dave Moody is talking the party line on bears, and there’s a problem with that.

    1) The statistical package the agencies have put together for counting/estimating numbers of bears in the GYE is complicated beyond all reason, involving several different statistical methods cobbled together. It’s impossible to test the model against actual numbers, given the inherent difficulty of making counts on the ground. I personally think the model is untestable, which brings into question the validity of the model.

    The fact is, we still don’t know how many bears are out there. Expansion of bears into new areas could be as much a matter of the necessity for resource replacement as increased raw numbers. The conflict over numbers will be the case for as long as it is proves difficult (impossible) to make a direct census of bears.

    2) I spent much of the summer in the backcountry of the southern GYE surveying whitebark pine.

    a. In most of its range in the GYE, whitebark pine is dead or dying. The reason the cone crop was poor this year is not because of a down cycle in cone production, but because the trees are dead, and will remain so. There’s not going to be an upcycle in cone production any time soon. In other words, right now, there is no cone cycle. True, there is significant regeneration of whitebark pine throughout the area, but pine beetles are hitting young trees as soon as they grow to 4-6 inches diameter at breast height. I found precious little evidence of resistance in young trees to the pine beetle. That’s not good news; even the young trees are dying once they reach a certain size.

    b. I saw very little griz sign in the backcountry, except in one small drainage, Twilight Creek, directly to the east of Five Pockets north of Dubois. Here, pine beetles had come in only this year, and there was fair to good cone production, so the drainage was full of bears and bear sign (this was September). I saw more bear sign in Twilight Creek than I did in all the other drainages surveyed. Everywhere else, bears were in the front country hanging around ranches before hunting season, and during hunting season in places the hunters were killing elk.

    So, if one is going to be truly conservative about bears, given the problems with the population census model, the undeniable mortality of whitebark pine (which in my view is not replaceable as the FWS claims), and this year’s excessive mortality, the prudent response would be to return the bear to “threatened” status under the ESA. That is why, of course, the various NGOs filed suit over delisting, since contemporary politics is so prejudiced against the ESA in general, and bears in particular. It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will be more interested in enforcing the law.


  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    A fine letter, Robert. . . I was going to the add one of your points in my post last night — grizzlies are ranging far afield not because there are so many of them, but out of necessity as they try to find new food sources.

  3. vickif Avatar


    You have highlighted the best of reasons why bears are still in jeopardy.

    With the pine beetle eating the west alive, is it safe to assume that bears will be more migratory in their efforts to obtain food? I would say yes, but the destruction of pine trees is like a the “wave” at a crowded stadium. Once a populaion is dead they move on to the next, and back again. Just when one population begins to recover, the beetles eat it again. So bears looking for food may have to keep moving as the beetle does, wouldn’t they?

    That by itself is reason enough to relist them. Habitat.

    I talked to a ranger up by Walden, CO this summer. He informed me that the original data they had said the beetle would eat and move on, eventually eating itself out of a food source (eating many animals out of house and home too). But now, he says the beetle is not only moving on, it is moving back. THey have said that withing five years, will will have lost 95% of Colorado’s forests to pine beetles. I would question how many other animals are jeapordized by this loss of habitat.

    Until they figure out how to stop the beetles, they will not have a way to delist the griz. Would you agree?

    Another stellar example of how the Interior has got to change it’s focus to conservation needs, and off of rancher’s needs.

  4. vickif Avatar

    I had meant to say they would not have a reason not to relist the griz. sorry

  5. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    As I’ve noted before, grizzly numbers were so low, and grizzly mortality so high, that it precluded delisting, but Chris Servhenn and the feds did some new math that boosted the population count and that solved the problem. The new method of calculating the number of bears was not peer-reviewed before grizzlies were delisted. I don’t know if it has been yet. Below are some delisting documents from the Fish & Wildlife Service mountain prarie area. The “non-technical” summary of the new math is about 60-70 pages long.It’s incomprehensible.

    Revised Methods to Estimate Population Size and Sustainable Mortality Limits

    1. Reassessing Methods to Estimate Population Size and Sustainable Mortality Limits for the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear
    2. Supplement to Reassessing Methods to Estimate Population Size and Sustainable Mortality Limits for the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (June 2006)
    3. Non-technical Summary of Revised Methods (January 2007)

  6. vickif Avatar

    For once we agree.

  7. Salle Avatar

    Sounds like capitulation out of fear for their cushy jobs.

    But then, I wasn’t thrilled with this crowd long before this “new fuzzy math” situation anyway.

    The Servheen brothers have had their hands in the pie for some time now… Chris’ brother works for the State of Idaho and has been involved in the bear council for years, don’t know if he’s still there but I suppose he is.

  8. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Notice that the agency response to an alarming number of grizzly bear deaths is NOT concern about on the ground causes of those deaths–instead, the agencies are going to cook the books again and magically produce more bears. The article says:

    According to Moody and the interagency grizzly bear study group, the grizzly population is doing very well, and the actual number of bears in the Greater Yellowstone area might be higher than they’ve been estimating.

    “Several of us felt that the existing rule set was ultra-conservative, and we thought it would be a good idea to look at it,” Moody said, “So we did, and at least the initial feedback we’re getting is that it is conservative.”

    The study team consists of one representative from all of the federal and state agencies involved in grizzly bear management, including Moody.

    “We’re in a process now where we’ve got a funding package put together to take this to a group of statisticians to see if they can modify the existing rule set to make it more accurate,” he said.

    He doesn’t think the changes are going to “drastically” increase the population estimates, but Moody does predict the estimated total will go up.

  9. Ray Avatar

    Well, the whitebark pine populations aren’t in nearly as bad a situation in the GYE as they are further north. The species decline is not directly a result of climate change, but instead due to an exotic disease (white pine blister rust). This disease and beetle outbreaks MAY be exacerbated by climate change in the future ( Also, Whitebark pine nut crops DO indeed go through natural cycles of high and low nut production years, similar to masting cycles in oaks (IMorgan and Bunting 1992). These are have proven hard to predict, though, and have been shown to influence grizzly behavior and activity. Let’s not ignore these crucial component of the situation.

  10. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
    Peter Kiermeir

    In the comment section of the article Marion puts us into the right perspective again: Blame the wolves and the environmentalists – in that order! It´s unbelievable!
    Besides that and the pine nuts, there is still the high mortality rate, with 49 confirmed and 80(!) probable deaths (over the GYE ?). That is more than the total of 63 for the 10 year period 1992-2002 compressed into one single year (Numbers extracted from the recovery parameters provided by Yell 706 Information Paper No. BMO-6, Table 2) Seems, a multitude of problems threatens that poor bears, already now and even more to come in the future.


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.

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