Controversial Grizzly Bear Death A Family Tragedy

An Obituary For Bear 615-

This is a story about the recent killing of the grizzly in Ditch Creek. For several reasons that posting caused quite a stir on the blog

The feature article below is written by Todd Wilkinson who has a new web site I was not aware of — Wildlife Art Journal It looks interesting.

Controversial Grizzly Bear Death A Family Tragedy. An Obituary For Bear 615. By Todd Wilkinson.






  1. Bob Caesar Avatar
    Bob Caesar

    All other human considerations and frailties such as guilt and stupidity aside, Todd has written a fitting, touching and poignant obituary. There are truly thousands of people deeply touched by this needless, tragic death, which Todd has put into such perspective.

    We must hope the Teton County Prosecutors Office and the Judge will be moved by the loss and the sentiments of all those thousands of people who watched her grow up! Hopefully, a message, a VERY strong message of responsibility, will be sent to not only hunters, but all those who venture into bear country. I don’t care a whit about Westmorland as l,ong as that message goes forth!

    From now on in the Intermountain west – “If you go out in the woods today you are sure of a big surprise” so be ready! Think about what you’ll do when you come across a bear! Carry bear spray and know how to use it! There is simply not substitute for training our own minds as to how we will reach when that moment comes.

    Oh, and if you know there is a gut pile in the area – give it to the bears and circumnavigate!

  2. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    The other day I made a comment that hunters shoot first and ask questions later. I did not say all hunters, but this case illustrates my point. This was senseless this bear being killed. Why don’t all hunters carry pepper spray? Whenever people criticize a hunters motives they are labeled an anti or an animal rights activist- like that is a bad thing to question stupid actions by stupid people.

  3. Jeff Avatar

    Dave Smith made his typical weak agruement regarding bear spray in the letters to editor section of the Jackson Hole News and Guide. Considering that the facts reported indicate this was a prime situation to use bear spray—it makes his arguement look ill informed and silly at best.

  4. Mike Avatar

    More and more as time goes on I’m starting to lean towards the view that all hunting may be an outdated relic no longer needed in a very overpoulated world.

  5. Mgulo Avatar


    I can appreciate your emotional response to a tragic situation (I’m saddened and frustrated as well – this was so avoidable) but before taking away a very useful manangement tool that has paid for and continues to pay for most wildlife conservation in the US and that is the only viable population control for the exploding whitetail deer population, among others, you might want to consider what you are going to replace it with. Paid professional shooters? Paid for by whom? Overseen by whom? Answering to whom? Isn’t that Wildlife Services?

    Better to become directly involved in wildlife management issues such as your state’s season setting process, and working with your management agency or wildlife commission to let them know (in some way other than a emotionally-satsifying but totally ineffective letter to the editor) that you won’t tolerate regs that allow irresponsible behavior. Better yet, figure out how to free widlife agencies from the financial tyranny of the traditional hook and bullet faction so that they have to repond to someone else’s views. As long as hunters pay the tab, they will call the shots. That’s the American way.

    I’m sure that (like me – a life-long hunter) many hunters are just as distressed by the irresponsible actions of a few. But broad brush strokes tend to lead to unintended consequences.

  6. Mike Avatar

    Mgulo – My response is not just based on this issue, but rather my experience of traveling the nation the past seveal years. There are simply too many people, and we are constantly pushing into what little wildlife areas are left. It’s relentless. There are no “safe zones” where animals can not be harassed or shot at. We go at them with ATV’s, horses, big pickups, down two tracks and every last bit of trail we can find. Our access is unlimited,and their refuge tiny.

    A hundred years ago, when we needed hunting to survive and persist in untracked country it was different. Now those areas are crossed by hundreds of thousands of miles of road. Animals have to dodge cars, guns and prying eyes. It’s an endless and relentless pressure caused by human overpopulation. I’ve only truly realized just how overwhelming we are on the landscape the past several years. As time goes on and we continue to insanely grow our population, I have no doubt that hunting will be phased out as harassment, much like showing up to a zoo and shooting the animals behind the fences. It’s not really all that different rigt now.

  7. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Mike your going to have a tough time phasing out something that is protected by many state constitutions. I don’t now how the future will go, but every year we are seeing states take a stand against Federal control, right now, Montana and Tenn are fighting the Feds over state sovereignty…

  8. Jeff Avatar

    Mike I’d say you need to work more on human population control than anything else. I hunt and I know that no animal is going to go extinct based on regulated fair chase hunting. Unregulated commercial hunting and poisoing is what did in most endangered or extinct species, hunting groups and well regulated game and fish commissions have protected many species from extinction. Hunting elephants in Africa ultimately ensures their protection and survival despite the harvest of a few animals. Shooting 75 wolves in MT or 250 or so in ID will not effect the animals overall health or numbers one bit, the hunt might actually benefit wolves in the long term by making them more accepted in the hunting community of the Northern Rockies (which is dwindling in numbers, but not going away anytime soon) and by making them more cautious around people. I’m a fan of wolves and have no interest in hunting any predator, I sometimes wonder how much good those folks grieving the loss of a few wolves could do if they put their collective energies towards helping poor children instead of thinking of individual wolves as people.

  9. Linda Hunter Avatar

    I think Mike has some good points. But it isn’t just hunting that needs a makeover. All the spots I usually go in the forest for solitude were tracked up this summer by ATV’s off trail, garbage left behind and little trucks forging new roads with their mud tires. The users behind these tracks were not only hunters but a large wave of people for who English is a second language who were harvesting forest products for low wages. These people are harvesting salal, bear grass, huckleberries and mushrooms and they are doing it on an industrial strength saturation using any method they can to reach every inch of roadless area. When you add grazing leases to the mix it gets really ugly. If I were a bear I would be very tempted to move to an urban park where things are still green.

  10. Cris Waller Avatar
    Cris Waller

    Linda, are you in Washington? Sounds like the situation on the Gifford Pinchot, and I am sure elsewhere in WA as well… that may be the reason why that cougar decided to try living in Discovery Park!

  11. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    The last couple of times I have gone through the Gifford Pinchot, I was amazed at the picker camps set up for mushrooms, Hucks and other forest product, some of them places look bigger than some of the towns I see in Montana and Idaho!

  12. Mgulo Avatar

    Until foks get a handle on human population and human development anything done for protection of wildife is, at best, a holding action. Maybe, just maybe we can hold onto enough so that when folks finally come understand, there will be something to start over from.

    Which doesn’t mean we ought to give up. If the good guys quit, the bad guys win by default.

  13. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Using the terms “good guys” and “bad guys” seem about as counter productive as can be, I don’t see either side as good or bad on wildlife issues, I do see deep divides on these issues based on many different factors.

  14. Mgulo Avatar

    Save bears – It’s a folk saying.

    And there are some bad guys out there. I have a meeting with some this afternoon!

  15. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    I am very familiar with the term and its origins, but after working for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, for a number of years, I know how much deeper the divide can been when the terminology is used.

    I can say, based on my experience in the wildlife arena, both sides consider themselves the “good guys” and think they are doing the right thing…

  16. Mike Avatar

    As we become more and more populated, I’m starting to believe that no human can be the “good guy” when it comes to wildlife issues, not even the photographer who pressures and pushes on the animals. Not even the guy who honks at deer to scare them away from the roads, or the groups who work for wilderness. It seems that to be the “good guy” in a wildlife context, we need to get the hell out of the way and remove ourselves from the landscape in a way that achieves some sort of balance.

  17. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Chris Waller . . yes it is exactly the Gifford Pinchot in Washington I am talking about. I would almost rather have cattle there as at least they don’t use toilet paper.

  18. Todd Wilkinson Avatar
    Todd Wilkinson

    I’ve received a few emails from friends who read the Bear 615 obit and want to know if there’s anything new.

    The facts are these: People living in that part of Jackson Hole, along Pacific Creek, Ditch Creek and elsewhere in the front country of the Bridger-Teton, have spotted certainly more than one, if not several, sows with cubs in recent years. The question is: Does it matter if 615 was related to 399? And is the dead bear really 615?

    As I mentioned to a friend, the presence of 399 and clan gave a large number of people a hook for thinking about grizzlies and thinking about how humans and bears relate to each other in shared space. The clan also went a long way toward de-mythologizing grizzlies as being these blood-thirsty menaces. In truth, there have been many human-bear encounters in Jackson Hole at close range without any person or bear getting killed.

    I really don’t mean to demonize Westmoreland but there are a half dozen things HE could have done differently and the dead female bear, heading toward the prime of her breeding years, would still be alive. If the proponents of delisting really want to keep bears off the federal protected list, they should do all they can to help keep female grizzlies alive as they will make the difference between having a healthy stable or declining population.

    Ironically, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department just circulated an advisory for what hunters should do, including avoiding carcasses on the ground. Those who suggest that people who raise legitimate questions about this episode care more for bears than human life are being silly. Whether one has a gun in his hand or not, traversing grizzly country on foot requires vigilant awareness.

    One more thing: The question of whether DNA analysis is really being conducted on 615 and compared to 399 or not? I don’t know who holds the samples and where the testing would be done. I was told by a park spokeswoman that testing was being done. I have also heard people ask what the point of doing analysis is? What does it prove?

    While there are compelling arguments being made that bears are being handled too much, including pregnant females and a number of trapping and collaring events involving 399, my own feeling is if the agencies already have tissue or blood specimens from both bears (399 and 615) what would it hurt to have them analyzed? Moreover, since 399 has been praised by bear managers for her ability to navigate front country areas and forage for natural foods without coming in conflict with people, couldn’t something be learned from knowing if her offspring are exhibiting similar behavioral characteristics? We know that behavior is transmitted from mother to cubs. I think lineage, if it proves conclusive, could be insightful. Finally, my purpose for writing the obit was to remember a bear that might have a connection to a remarkable mother, and remind fellow hunters heading into the woods that being fast and loose with a trigger comes with scrutiny. As it should.

  19. Talks with Bears Avatar
    Talks with Bears

    Very informative – certainly helps shed some light on the aggressive nature of the bear family blood line. Seems that 615 was taking the steps to attack just as her mother had taught her. At the time 399 attacked a human she and her offspring should have been put down. This appropriate action would have saved Mr. Westmorland from having to defend himself from a predatory bear and now spend his money defending himself in court.

  20. Richie,NJ Avatar

    To all;
    Another bear goes down that is not good for people who want to protect them,and to another hunter who always has excuses, no cub should anywhere should be killed,it is just a cub,oh tell me they are dangerousl lol. Should hikers or hunters beaware of all rules in bear country? In Yellowstone signs are posted all over this, is bear country,so outside of Yellowstone should people be aware where they are going? just a thought.


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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