Andrea Peacock: Bearly Making It

How Many Biologists Does It Take to Count a Dead Grizzly?

Grizzly cub near Pelican Valley © Ken Cole
Grizzly cub near Pelican Valley © Ken Cole

Adrea Peacock adapts an essay from In the Presence of Grizzlies: The Ancient Bond Between Men and Bears by Doug and Andrea Peacock, The Lyons Press 2009 :

Bearly Making Itvia CounterPunch

On December 17, 2004, Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council convened a collection of U.S. grizzly bear advocates in Bozeman, Montana, with a call to arms. Under threat of lawsuit from the governor of Wyoming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned a fast-track removal of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Convinced that such a move—under the sorts of conditions proposed by the agency—could send the park’s grizzlies on a downward spiral toward extinction, Willcox figured the activists and lawyers gathered had about a year to either derail the process, or get ready to sue.

There is litigation contesting the US Fish & Wildlife’s delisting of grizzlies currently underway.



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  1. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    What a hoot!!! Almost 40 years of research at $1-$2 million a year to count Yellowstone grizzlies, and the article concludes:

    “for all the science, no one really knows how many bears live nor how many die. Dozens of papers have been written, plugging factors of food, mortality, road densities, and the like into computer models that all spit out formulas that invariably conclude grizzly bears don’t fit into computer models.”

    Think I’ll start a company called PBR and see if I can get a $98,000 government grant to study the history of research on Yellowstone grizzlies. PBR = Pork Barrel Research.

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Sometimes nature strikes back at researchers.
    A cougar researcher in Grand Canyon National Park got a mortality signal from the radio collar he had placed on a cougar. He found the cougar dead and bleeding from the nose.
    He took the collar off, posed with the dead cat(no gloves, no mask) for a photo and took the cat home. A week later he died from the plague. It seems the cougar had died from the plague and he got infected from handling her. She had two kittens with her when she was collared and no trace of them was found.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’d urge folks to read this detailed and well written article. Dave Smith’s comments might tend to discourage you.

    Unless you already follow the grizzly bear issue, you will know a lot more about some of the key people involved, the history of grizzly recovery and current issues, than you did before.

  4. Kropotkin_man Avatar

    Mr. Thorngren,

    Please tread lightly.

    Grand Canyon National Park News Release

    Release Date: November 18, 2008
    Contact: Maureen Oltrogge
    Phone: 928-638-7779
    Board Of Review Report Released In Eric York Fatality

    The National Park Service has released the board of review report on the circumstances surrounding the 2007 death of Grand Canyon National Park employee Eric York. York, a wildlife biologist at Grand Canyon National Park, was found deceased in his residence on the South Rim on November 2, 2007.

    Tests conducted by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) following York’s death confirmed that he had died from pneumonic plague, a rare, but often fatal disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Plague is primarily a disease of animals, but can be transmitted to humans through the bites of rodent fleas or by direct contact with infected animals. In rare cases, pneumonic plague can spread from person to person through aerosolized respiratory droplets (e.g. coughing, sneezing).

    According to the CDC, person-to-person transmission of plague has not been observed in the United States since 1924. As a wildlife biologist, York had direct contact with both wild rodents and mountain lions, which put him at a higher risk for plague than other park staff and the general public. Prior to his death, York had recovered a dead mountain lion in a remote location of Grand Canyon National Park and had transported the animal to his residence, where he had performed a necropsy on the animal. Tests conducted by the CDC determined that the strain of plague that infected York was the same strain of plague that infected the mountain lion York had recovered.

    Following York’s death, a board of review was convened by the NPS to examine and evaluate the pertinent data and facts surrounding his death. The report provides an executive summary, findings, and recommendations. The recommendations outlined in the Board of Review Report have been put forth, so that the NPS can prevent similar events from happening again. The recommendations include the following:

    • Supervisors need to be actively involved at various levels of their subordinates’ jobs, including training and field observations in order to identify risks and help create a safer work environment.
    • The park needs to develop and implement written programs that will lead to a safer work environment, including risk assessments, job hazard analyses, and the proper use of personal protective equipment.
    • Work programs need to be regularly reviewed and evaluated for safety-related issues by the park’s safety officer.

    “Eric was a hardworking and dedicated employee who gave fully of himself to understand and protect the wildlife in Grand Canyon National Park as well as other places around the world,” said Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Steve Martin. “His death was a tragic loss to his family and to all who knew him. We are taking the recommendations outlined in this report very seriously and have already begun to take appropriate actions to ensure that another tragedy such as Eric’s death does not happen again. The National Park Service has developed servicewide protocols to assist biologists and other employees in identifying risks, appropriate work practices and personal protective equipment to make their jobs safer.”

    Plague is considered endemic in northern Arizona at elevations above 4,500 feet. Park officials want to remind people living, working or visiting areas where plague is known to exist to take the following precautions to reduce their risk of exposure:

    • Do not handle sick or dead animals.
    • Prevent pets from roaming loose.
    • Control fleas on pets by applying flea collars or sprays routinely. Check with your veterinarian about the appropriate flea medicine for your pet.
    • Avoid exposure to rodent burrows and fleas and wild animals.
    • Use insect repellant when visiting or working in areas where plague might be active or rodents might be present.
    • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning or skinning wild animals or cleaning rodent traps.
    • Domestic cats are highly susceptible to plague. Cat owners should take their ill cats to a veterinarian for evaluation.
    • Be able to identify the symptoms of plague or other zoonotic diseases and seek medical treatment immediately if any of the symptoms occur.

    For more information on plague and other zoonotic and vector-borne diseases as well as for tips on prevention, please visit the CDC Web site at

    Copies of the board of review report has been posted on the park’s web site at

    For additional information please contact Maureen Oltrogge, public affairs officer, at 928-638-7779.

  5. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Larry–I’d never wish that on anyone.

    We’ve spent about 34 years and $34-$68 million dollars on researching Yellowstone grizzly bears, and what does it get us? The boundaries of today’s “Primary Conservation Area” are the exact same boundaries designated as “situation one” grizzly habitat back in 1980. The essential recommendations for management of humans in the grizzly bear’s “Primary Conservation Area” today are no different than the recommendations for management of humans in Situation One grizzly bear habitat in 1980.

  6. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    “NEPA documents must concentrate on issues that are truly significant to the action in question, rather than amassing needless detail . . . it is not better documents, but better decisions that count. NEPA’s purpose is not to generate paperwork–even excellent paperwork–but to foster excellent action.”

    Should be delist Yellowstone grizzlies? There are mountains of research and paperwork to sort through. Here’s what Chris Servheen, the feds and states won’t tell you.

    In 2000, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team only sighted 3 grizzlies outside the Primary Conservation Area (PCA). The grizzly population was estimated at 438 (394-482). Not enough bears for delisting. To visualise the PCA, draw a circle 2 inches in diameter.

    In 2005, research showed that there were lots of grizzlies for 10 miles beyond the boundary of the PCA. The population was estimated at 546 (491-602). OK to delist bears. Draw a cirle 2.5 inches in diameter.

    There’s a correlation between the amount of bear habitat and the number of bears.

    Whackos like yours truly think that after delisting, grizzlies outside the PCA are goners. Grizzly habitat outside the PCA won’t be protected. Chris Servheen wants you to believe the US Forest Service will take care of grizzly habitat on federal land outside the PCA, while the Wyoming Game & Fish Dept. will handle the situation on both federal and private lands outside the PCA. Wyoming, of course, has made no secret it wants to reduce the number of grizzlies. Ranchers and other livestock owners are anxious to reduce the grizzly population to the bare minimum necessary before triggering re-listing.

    Delisting means that even if we protect grizzly habitat within the PCA, bears are in trouble. I’m skeptical the state and feds will do an adequate job of protecting habitat within the PCA. The future is bleak for bears. Which is exactly what Andrea and Doug Peacock are telling you.

  7. Brian Ertz Avatar

    science is great – for me, understanding the natural world brings about a re-invigorated passion ~ advocacy.

    but far too often, we collect millions upon millions of dollars in the conservation community to amass documentation of the natural world’s plummet – we learn dire things … and the ‘action’ part is left woefully underfunded. for others, it seems – science is a place to hide from controversy – as if the supreme tenet of objectivity – as if there were such a thing – is a sort of insulation against the responsibility to act, or draw heat. perhaps it’s not the players/scientists themselves as much as the political machinery that puts them in such a box.

    either way – that’s how i read this article. we know enough to know we need to act – that’s enough for me.

    political science is a sort of science too … it’d probably be good to put some resource into some of that on behalf of wildlife & wild places.

  8. mikarooni Avatar

    I’m not sure there’s much need to determine or much value in rehashing who hit John. The very clear truth at this point is that too many bears have been shot out of or otherwise taken out of the gene pool too soon after the delisting, which means the delisting either happened too soon or without enough planning or proper protections. Something needs to be done. Relisting may be one option; but, the core problem is that the bears need to be allowed to spread into a wider range in order to support a more reliable population size that encompasses a larger and more resilient gene pool. I see hunting as the primary problem; the evidence shows that bears, gut piles, and gunners haven’t played well together. Hunting practices and regulations need to be changed to keep this combination from occurring in the larger area needed to support a more robust bear population. This isn’t rocket science.

  9. Jeff Avatar

    The good news in this whole story is that there are seemingly more bears now than 10 years ago and a lot more than there was 30 years ago. For 12 years I’ve lived in Jackson, the first few years I never saw a grizzly except on the northern range of YNP. In the past 2-3 years I’ve seen several in GTNP and every year I see them a little further south, most recently the bear near Cunningham’s Cabin in GTNP and a large boar just upstream of Moose on an elk it stole from an unidentified wolf pack. The pack killed the elk right where Cottonwood Creek flows into the Snake River. Add to this the grizzly near Alpine this spring in the Snake River Canyon and the Grizzly spotted (and reported…and NOT shot) by a black bear hunter with a bait barrel in the Middle Fork of Piney creek west of Big Piney, Wyoming, and it seems like the grizzlies are doing well in Western Wyoming.

  10. SR25Stoner Avatar

    I’ve made it into the west side of the Jedediah Smith a few times, last time was 2007, horse back with pack horse, I hung a bell on the saddle horn, spent six days wandering about in there, 23 bears, 8 were grizzlies..Coyote Meadows TH, Bitch Creek, hit some lakes, horses hated it..I loved it..

    I’ve fished north of Dubois Wyoming, seen a Grizzlie in there, and spring of 08 I met a nice Grizzlie up on South pass..I was skiing classic and bota bing there he was, or her.. That sighting was well worth the expense of driving over there to play..

    I used to elk hunt that country, and still drive over every winter to view the Rocky Mountain Bighorns wintering near Ring, trail, and torrey lakes, south of Dubois, I doubt I spelled the lakes correctly, and we once saw a wolf there..


  11. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Jeff & SR25Stoner–Enjoy it will you can. There’s a lawsuit pending on delisting Yellowstone grizzlies. If environmentalists lose, grizzlies will be “managed” differently in many of the areas you mention. They’ll be extirpated. Again.

    All the fuss last year about 48 grizzlies being killed? That did exceed mortality limits by a bear or two. If grizzlies are delisted the goal, the management objective, is to get as close to the maximum mortality limit as possible in order to keep the grizzly population as low as possible.

    Don’t forget the importance of hunting as a management tool. Hunters get “surplus bears.” You might look at 48 bears killed in 2008 and think, no way they can hunt grizzlies in 2009. Wrong. Thanks to decades of population research that cost tens of millions of dollars, bear managers will look at the numbers from the past few years and determine that the maximum bear mortality for 2009 is, say, 41 grizzlies. Let’s say 11 grizzlies get killed during the spring/summer of 2009. That means there’s a “surplus” of 30 grizzlies. Time to start selling hunting licenses for grizzlies.

  12. chris Avatar

    Thank you for rebutting Larry’s nonsense with the facts.

    You’ve gone from a dishonest one trick pony who presents false assumptions as facts to a repugnant activitist enjoying and misrepresenting a man’s death. Why you are still allowed to post on this site is beyond me.

  13. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Click on my link to the story about the biologist dying from the plague and read it. Look at the photo. I simply summarized the article and described the photo( radio collar removed ,no gloves,no surgical mask). I didn’t enjoy his death.
    When I was a teenager, I used to hunt Cottontail Rabbits. One fall I was carrying a rabbit that I had killed and felt a tickling on my hand and wrist. I looked and found my hand and wrist covered with fleas that were leaving the cooling body of the dead rabbit and were moving to my warm hand and up my arm. That is what fleas do. Fleas carry plague from one mammal to another. When I discovered almost every rabbit I killed had lots of fleas, I quit hunting them.
    If biologists would follow the procedures outlined for the general public in Kropotkin_man’s post, there wouldn’t be tragedies such as this one.
    I have on many occasions commented that I have yet to see a photo of a wildlife biologist protecting himself or the animal being handled by using rubber gloves and a surgical mask. I still haven’t.

  14. CAT Avatar

    Sadly all of the suggested “protect yourself and protect the wildlife” guidelines that the National Park Service considered adopting after the researcher’s death in Grand Canyon hasn’t made inroads in informing researchers in places like Yellowstone. You’ll note on page 9 of this brochure the unmasked/ungloved bear cub researcher.

    Ironically the link to this brochure on Yellowstone’s research page is titled ……. Field Ethics and SAFETY….

  15. chris Avatar


    I don’t need to read a 2 year old newspaper article to know about Eric York nor do I accept your explanation that you were simply summarizing the article and have some new found concern for biologists. Given your history of comments here, it’s hard to believe you are bringing his story up without promoting your agenda. Especially when you ominously mention that lion kittens were never seen again after the biologist handled them. It is reminiscent of your lie that the Colorado biologists who reintroduced collared lynx were listing lynx that they killed as having died of starvation. I called your bluff and asked you to produce evidence and you never responded.

    Mr. York’s work increased knowledge of lion behavior and directly enhanced their survival. The project’s radio telemetry data discovered that lions were frequenting the heavily populated Grand Canyon Village area which lead to increased public information campaign about what to do if tourists encounter a lion. This potentially saves the lives of both humans and lions. The project’s telemetry data also discovered areas where lions frequently crossed major roads. This lead to reduced speed limit and lion crossing signs in prime habitat that potentially saves more lions.

    This doesn’t mean all radio-collaring is done properly or even necessary. But you should present your critiques with more respect for the facts and the people you’re talking about.

  16. Jeff Avatar

    I’m not sure I share in your worries about grizzlies being wiped out again. None of the bears spotted south of Jackson Hole were moved or killed. No hunt has been scheduled and if/when Wyoming does a quota of 5 outside the PCA is what has been tenatively planned, like the wolf hunt this shouldn’t have a significant dent on the population and it is expected to make hunters more tolerant of the species and less willing to kill illegally. More bears have been killed because there are more bears in more areas causing problems. Change is slow but people are slowly changing there wasy, using bear proof trash cans, pulling in pet food etc… There are still violators both hunters and homeowners but there isn’t a concerted effort to eliminate them and that is why they have significantly increased their range over the past sevearl decades.

  17. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    You have never seen a radio collar you didn’t like. When I see a radio-collared animal in one of our National Parks, I get the same feeling I do when I see a panel of pictographs in Utah where some idiot has written “Chris was Here” across the ancient drawings. It is the same thing.
    You obviously can’t read the article I linked to. I’ll put in here again so you can get some thirteen year old to read it and explain it to you.

  18. chris Avatar

    You’re high horse is a one trick pony. You’re clearly not mature enough to handle a debate without questioning someone’s intelligence or threatening to go buy a wolf tag. I guess that’s easier for you than actually answering people’s questions .

    Didn’t you notice that in my last post and others, I’ve said not all radio collars are necessary or done properly? Why haven’t you backed up your claim about biologists in CO killing lynx or your grotesque implication that York killed the lion kittens?

    I knew Mike York and know more about the situation than you ever will. Check out this link if you actually give a damn about reality:

    Re-read my post to see how this particular study benefitted mountain lions. Can you specificly explain how those things could have been accomplished without radio-collars? What have you done to help mountain lions with your photography?

  19. Peter Kiermeir Avatar

    Later this autumn, my wife and me are going to spend some time with the Bear Research Team in the High Tatra Mountains of Slovakia. They consist of locals, as well as Brit´s, even an American (!). From what I know today this seems to be one of these typical European research outfits, always low on budget but high in motivation. Will be highly interesting so learn more about bear research there, the background, the politics behind, with bear population density in Slovakia one of the highest in Europe (between 800 and 1400, depending on which source/lobby – you rely on). Let´s see, how many Biologists it takes there……

  20. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith


    The Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan (p.14) says there are some lands where “grizzly bear occupancy will be discouraged.” Any idea of how that objective will be accomplished? Are ranchers going to put up signs that say “Grizzlies: No Trespassing?,” or what?

    The Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan also says that due to grizzly-human conflicts in some areas, “grizzly bears [will] be managed at lower densities.” Does that mean you shoot grizzlies until the population is reduced, or what?

    “Consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that the existing outer boundary of the Grizzly Bear Data Analysis Unit (GBDAU) (Fig. 12) must
    remain intact as it was identified in the state’s initial management planning efforts and adopted by the USFWS as part of the Conservation Strategy (CS). This does not mean that all of the area within that boundary must, or will be occupied by grizzly bears. There are large blocks of lands, especially private lands, that do not provide suitable habitat for grizzly bears where grizzly occupancy will be discouraged, and other lands where the potential for increased human-grizzly bear conflicts will require that grizzly bears be managed at lower densities, depending on localized situations.” WYGBMP 2002/5

  21. Jeff Avatar

    I would certainly like to see grizzlies allowed throughout the Wind, Wyoming, and Salt River Ranges as the habitat is there, the problem is that there are significant sheep allotments in those places. The political will does not exist to retire those leases at the current time. The good news is that grizzlies exist at low levels in the southern Winds and Wyoming range already. Provided they don’t get in trouble Game and Fish will leave them alone, when bears chronically prey on livestock they’ll be trapped and moved and or killed if they are repeat offenders. It is my understanding that when/if WYoming initiates a hunt that it won’t be allowed in the PCA, but rather in the outer perimeter of known occupied territory. I’d much prefer to see excess bears trapped and transfered to the Selway and or Frank Church Wilderness Areas. If a hunt with a quota of 5 bears was would it build more tolerance for bears by hunters and possibly even reduce overall kills? I wonder? Could they have a predation hunt like they do late season with elk when they start raiding haystacks on private land? Maintain a waiting list and issue a tag when a bear is causing problems, allow a hunter to hunt a specific bear in an area where he/she is causing problems.
    If the USFWS is going to maintain that the GBDAU must remain intact the beforementioned mountain ranges will continue to be recolonized. The map showing known grizzly occupancy is already out of date as animals have been documented way south of where the maps say the exist. The GYE gizzly popuation is without doubt doing well and expanding, as long as Game and Fish doesn’t do anything crazy their popuation will continue to grow and expand.

  22. mikarooni Avatar

    “The GYE gizzly popuation is without doubt doing well and expanding, as long as Game and Fish doesn’t do anything crazy their popuation will continue to grow and expand.” I don’t think this statement is justified by any of the apparent evidence. It seems to be belief-based and the problem is that it will very likely be too late to correct the situation if this belief is wrong. The genetic bandwidth is already pretty tight for this population.

  23. Jeff Avatar

    I think the continued growth and expansion of their range is pretty good evidence. Not to mention that I said Game and Fish shouldn’t do anything crazy…not going after that bear in the Middle Fork of Piney Creek is pretty hard evidence. If Game and Fish was have as irrational towards grizzlies as they are towards wolves I’d have more concern but if they were going to treat bears similarly they would have classified them as a predator outside the PCA.


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Brian Ertz