Greater Yellowstone grizzly numbers top 600 for first time

Record population is reached amidst a year of bear food stress and many mortalities-

This is a replacement of the original article (it’s more complete). Grizzly numbers hit new high in Yellowstone region. By Matthew Brown. AP

Because of the late spring, just average berry crop, and failure of the whitebark pine nut crop (there will be no more successes), the record number of grizzlies (603) have been very hungry and have come into lots of contact with humans. The death toll of grizzlies is getting close to 50 just before hibernation.

Latest: Hunter shoots grizzly in the South Fork Shoshone. Wyoming Bureau, Billings Gazette

Here are the details on grizzly mortality (up to number 47). 2010 Known and Probable Grizzly Bear Mortalities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center (NOROCK). USGS.

Here is the sorry news on Whitebark Pine nut production.



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  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I have observed several Grizzlies here in Yellowstone and they seem to be having a field day with this years large vole population. I watched a sow and two cubs digging up voles and eating them. A large bear was feeding on voles at the Pelican Creek trailhead today. There were mounds of dirt from vole burrows all over the meadow.
    The large vole population may be one reason bears are being seen a lower elevations.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I think I saw that very male today.

  2. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I need to go to Yellowstone with you two. I never seem to have luck seeing grizzlies.

  3. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    As Schwartz mentions the estimate of 603 bears is clearly conservative. They made attempts at mark-recapture estimation in 1998 and 1999 that resulted in estimates with very poor precision. However, even the lower 95% confidence bound for the 1999 estimate (after redesigning the project to reduce bias due to greater sightability and a lower marked rate on moth sites) was 627 bears (the point estimate was 2,600 and the upper bound nearly 45,000 bears!). Anyway, the indications are that the method used to estimate the total population is conservative. However, the method used to track the trend in the population (survey counts of unduplicated sows with cubs) is an index that appears to have been conducted in a painstakingly consistent way, although that method could have some issues as well as the population has expanded into different terrain.

    1. JB Avatar

      For these very reasons I would argue that point estimates are NEVER appropriate. Every time a manager talks to the press they should give the range (i.e. lower and upper bound with 95% confidence level); it is the best way to convey to a lay audience the error associated with these types of estimates (which can very considerably from estimate to estimate).

  4. Kayla Avatar

    Now only 600 or so grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I personally think this is wayyy low. I live here in Jackson Hole and have spent years hiking and wandering in the Yellowstone Wilds. And in what I have seen, it seems everywhere one goes, one sees all kinds of Grizzly tracks and Sign. I would say that maybe there is over 800 Grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem from what i have seen. I have talked to how many others in the backcountry and who frequent the backcountry who share my view. And in fact I heard some years ago someone with the Wyoming Fish and Game say that there was near 700 Grizzlies in the ecosystem. Just my opinion.

  5. BigSky Avatar

    Even if they’re growing in population and range, there are still just hundreds of a very slowly reproducing species. Being extremely rare and increasing is very different from being common or at some sort of “average historic numbers” and increasing.

    1. Save bears Avatar

      Your never going to have the “Average Historic Numbers” it is impossible, the habitat, no longer exists for that population of bears…simply put, it ain’t going to happen..

  6. Nancy Avatar

    SB, not only does the habitat no longer exist, there also isn’t much human tolerance left for an animal that big. (close to 50 dead this past year because of bear/human encounters?)

  7. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Save bears, you are right that we will never have average historic numbers of most species of big game. With the exception of the white-tailed deer and possibly the mulie, that won’t be seen again just because of the human population. However, people do need to realize that because grizzlies reproduce so slowly we need to be careful about allowing a hunt that could be premature. I also do believe there are plenty of places that can still support them that don’t, even if they never will get to historic numbers.

    1. jon Avatar

      I guess Wyoming hunters want the grizzly bear off the endangered species list as soon as possible.

      The Yellowstone grizzly bear population has not increased much since 2007 (from 571 animals to 603), but bear-human conflicts are increasing. The problem is that grizzlies have lost two sources of high calorie food in their core habitat: spawning cutthroat trout, and whitebark pine nuts.

      1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
        ProWolf in WY

        Which is why they should not be hunted at this point. I have no problem with it in the future, we just need to see that they will survive in the long-term, especially with this loss of two major food sources.

  8. Phil Avatar

    I remember reading an article that was published a few years ago mentioning that the Grizzly population was near 1,000, and now there are around 600? I know that there are some illegal huntings of animals in Yellowstone, could this be the case here? Someone mentioned it on here as a joke, but as from what I have learned, yes hunters are wanting even Grizzly Bears now off the Endangered Species List. It is not just Grizzly Bears and Wolves, any competition to their huntings they want off the list so that they can eliminate them.

    1. Save bears Avatar

      I don’t ever remember hearing there were 1000 in the Yellowstone area, perhaps, that was one of the numbers brought up when you combine the northern population with the Yellowstone population.

      1. Save bears Avatar

        The DNA study estimated there was around 765 grizzly bears in Northern Montana…

  9. mikarooni Avatar

    The number of individual animals in the population is not exactly the key to whether the species is healthy. You have look at the average genetic diversity in each animal and get an indication of the size of the actual genetic pool. Analyzing the size of the genetic pool in relation to the probable risks to the population and its required habitat, you get a picture of the rough size of the genetic pool required to sustain the species in the face of stochastic events through time. You can have thousands of individuals in the species; but, if the species has been genetically bottlenecked at some time in the past, you may be one viral outbreak away from extinction. There are many thousands of cheetahs; but, because past bottlenecking has made them all so very close to being clones, we need as many as possible, secluded into many protected separate populations to contain any single source problem and keep it from impacting all in the species.

    Too many of the people throwing out numbers of animals, whether numbers of bears or wolves or whatever, do not understand these concepts well enough to have a knowledgeable voice in the discussion.

    1. Save bears Avatar

      I would like to see a similar DNA study done on the Yellowstone population as well to ascertain the genetic health of the population in that area. Kate’s study was one of the least intrusive done to date, that actually is and will continue to allow us to learn much more, despite what McCain ran around bitching about a couple of years ago…

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      You really have an important point here.

      It might even apply to humans. It looks like in prehistoric times, various catastrophes came close to wiping us out. I read where at one time we might have been reduced to as few as several thousand people worldwide.

      Blow that up to 7-billion and genetic diversity is not increased at all. Of course, I’m discounting the mutations and natural selection that has taken place since that bad time x x x x thousand years ago.


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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