Greater Yellowstone grizzly population stops growing, drops slightly

Record mortality in 2010 took its toll-

Population goes from 602 to 593. Fifty-five grizzly died or were killed by people in 2010, a record. That pace is off slightly in 2011 (35 so far).  A large number of grizzly food sources have disappeared in recent years, most notably whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout. As a result the population has spread out, and more people run into griz and further afield from Yellowstone Park itself where maybe half the population lives.

Grizzly population drops. By Dave Smith. Examiner.

Here is the official grizzly bear mortality web page.



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  1. Kayla Avatar

    Now I personally have a problem in believing in this report. The reason for this is from just what I see anymore when I am in the backcountry. Now when I head back to the Thorofare and the deep back wild places in the Absarokas, the evidence from the tracks and scat of the local grizzlies that I come across is absolutely everywhere. I have seen trails back in this country which are nothing more then Grizzly Interstates it seems. And everyone who I talk to who go into this country, seems to see Grizzlies. And this year, 2011, everyone seems to be seeing Sow Grizzlies with cubs of the year. I think sometimes these biologists need to get out of their offices and away from their computer models and see what is really happening deep in the backcountry. Now there are many local people who frequent this backcountry I know who don’t believe anymore these Grizzly numbers and figures and think they are higher then what they are saying. I am of this group. Personally from what I have seen in the backcountry, in my opinion the Grizzly numbers are quite higher then what we are being led to believe. Again this just has come about from what I see when in the backcountry wilds. And I will end with this. Now I just say anymore to anyone who is going deep into the Greater Yellowstone Backcountry, you had better know what to do in Grizzly country and be prepared for an encounter, for the bruins are indeed out there.

    Just my two cents worth.

    1. Kayla Avatar

      Also will say this, now whatever the population of the local grizzlies are here in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem …. I am very much PRO Grizzly!!! And I trust them Grizzlies back in the wilds more then most people anymore it seems. So Gooooo Grizzlies!!!

  2. CodyCoyote Avatar

    It’s important to keep in mind that regardless of any anecdotal evidence, NOBODY knows what the true population number of greater Yellwostone grizzly bears is with any accuracy . Not in the Thorofare nor anywhere else.

    The poster ” Kayla” above me here asserts her belief the actual number of bears may be higher than the purported number. I could argue ( but wont ) just as anecdotally that the number is lower , not higher than the roster at USGS. One reason is grizzlies in the Thorofare are being routed onto main trails and more open spaces now that the deadfall and new growth of lodgepole from the ‘ 88 fires has made deep forest traverses more difficult for both bear and prey. So you see more scat and tracks along those trails and the parks, but that does not automatically translate to higher numbers of bears leaving the sign. We have to resist presuming that one bear “detected” three times is not three bears.

    Anyone who has attempted to follow grizzly bear research and recovery programs can easily come to the conclusion that the firm of Servheen and Schwartz LLC and their computer models for projecting bear numbers are more than a little suspect. Take them with skepticism. It is in their direct vocational and political interest ( singular, as in two sides of the same coin ) to fudge those numbers upward when certainty is absent. It’s absent.

    Besides, when using the parameter of ” Population ” really not about numbers of individual bears these days . Not like it was in the early days of grizzly recovery when virtually everyone agreed the numbers of bears in GYE was in fact measured in pool of a few dozen. Every bear counted, but was not actually counted, if you can make the distinction. Now we can relax those ” counts” and work with the term Population as it was intended.

    Unless you are Wyoming Game & Fish , in aprticular John Emmerich , who earlier this eyar was waving his arms wildly before the Wyo G&F COmmission blurting there are ” 1000 to 1400 grizzlies” in the GYE ( June meeting) in order to build a false case for accelerating the adoption of regulated hunting of grizzlies to Wyo G&F’s wish list. We all know grizzly hunts are coming, but Emmerich is out there in the bureaucratic wilderness all by himself in saying that time is now , or even past the time for some trophy Ursus arctos revenueus hunts in northwest Wyoming.

    The Yellowstone Grizzly is far from recovered or on the path of a viable sustainable future. Numbers f bears are only one parameter. it’s really all about the habitat for those bears, and frankly that picture does not look good no matter much varnish you apply or how pretty your frame it.

    One final note : Wyoming has a total aversion to allowing grizzlies to expand into adjacent areas of perfectly suitable habitat , or make their ” excess” bears available to other grizzly habitat areas along the northern Continental Divide, central Idaho , and elsewhere such as the Uintah Mountains of Utah or San Juans and other remote ranges in Colorado where bears definitely belong. Wyoming’s bear management policy is to keep all the grizzlies inside an artifical anthropocentric boundary area—a zoo fence— surrounding Yellowstone. That’s just plain stupid. But it works so well for them ( facetiousness alert! ) that they are doing the same thing to wolves…

    It’s tough being an apex predator in Wyoming when your fate is guided by and your life distorted by politicians and vested ,nested, developmentally arrested biologists who should know better…

  3. Kayla Avatar

    Cody Coyote, Now I want to say again that I am Pro Grizzly and I am for the bears. Like you I would Absolutely Love to see restored the Grizzly belongs thru out the American West including Central Idaho, the San Juans, the Sierra’s in California, the Gila in New Mexico, the Uinta’s, etc. And Yes I am for the Grizzly remaining on the endangered species list. Again unless anyone misunderstands … I am PRO GRIZZLY!!!!! I am for the Grizzly!!! Go Grizzlies!!!

    But I personally do think that there are more Grizzlies out there then what the authorities are wanting us to believe there is. This is just my personal belief!!! I do study this and read anything on the current Yellowstone Grizzlies that I can. And I am NOT NOT NOT a hunter! So if you are gonna try to lamblast me then you are barking up the wrong tree. I could go in depth of WHY WHY I do not believe in this report but I will not go there. I will just say this, just go on back into the Greater Yellowstone Backcountry and see for yourself. This is just what I have seen.

    And as for the Grizzlies habitat, most of that country in my opinion is in pretty darn good shape in what I have seen. In fact I think lots of that country is in better shape then some years ago. In one regards is that in most of the Absaroka Backcountry, there is not as much of us pesky human two leggeds around as there used to. This past summer in most of that country, there was hardly anyone. In certain reports I am hearing, Yes the Grizzlies are being seen outside the area where certain authorities want them to be corraled in. But the ones that know are being quiet. I personally think that the wolves and grizzlies future look better then us Human Two Leggeds with us remaining anymore so much out of Balance and harmony in so many regards. But that is another story.
    But will just say this, I trust the Grizzlies far far more then most Human Two Leggeds bigtime. I have had many a close encounter to the grizzly but never a Bad Encounter! Grizzlies do not stab other people in the back.

    Could go on but will leave this at this …. Yes I do NOT believe in this report and do think there are more Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone then what the authorities would say. I would personally say maybe maybe maybe 750 to 800 or so. But this is just my opinion.

    If you want to debate all day on this then bring it on.

    1. Mtn Mama Avatar
      Mtn Mama

      Kayla, I like the fact that you are optimistic and care about Grizzlies. However, I believe that evidence based science should be the basis for calculating population trends rather than your guestimate based on the number of scat piles you have seen in the woods. I did not have time to read the 108pg report tonight (will try to read it tomorrow) nor do I have time to “debate all day” with you. I would suggest reading “Track of The Grizzly” by Frank & John Craighead, if you haven’t already. Though their research was conducted more than 4 decades ago it is a good look at how statistical analysis and bureaucracy can be misconstrued.

  4. Alan Avatar

    I personally would tend to put more credence in a scientific study than in anecdotal evidence. We certainly have enough of that regarding wolves (“Whenever I go elk hunting all I ever see are wolves, everywhere….Wish they would tell me where they are hunting, because I rarely see wolves when I hike.) Whether there are 593 or 602, or 550 or 650; or whether, while hiking in grizzly rich country like the Thorofare, one sees evidence of grizzlies or not, are not the point. The point is, is this population, regardless its current actual size, increasing (indicating a thriving, expanding population) or declining (which could mean the opposite depending on overall trends). Actual numbers aren’t really that relevant, trends are.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      Alan —

      I agree about the importance of the trend and the difficulty in estimating the total number, which is why I pay more attention to the index of unduplicated sows with cubs-of-the-year, rather than the published total number. The longer-term trend in the index doesn’t look too bad so far (check out Figure 2).

      The recent 10-year average index is 3.67 times the average in the 1970s (from Table 5), when I spent more time in Yellowstone. Grizzlies seem an awful lot more visible and leave more sign now than I remember then. If you fit a line through the last 10 years (2001-2010), however, it’s pretty flat — slight positive slope but not statistically significant.

      There was an attempt at a mark-recapture estimate in 1998 that had poor precision and potential bias with poor representation by marks (radio collars) in moth areas where bears were more visible. However, they looked at it in a number of ways, and overall the results suggested the population was more likely above the official number (even when bears in the moth areas were completely excluded).

  5. catbestland Avatar

    Not to question this particular report but I’m not sure I believe everything I read in these “official reports” either. It is the official stance of the Colorado Division of Wildlife that there are no grizzlies in Colorado, but I know better. I saw one deep in the Uncompoahgre Wilderness (formerly the Big Blue Wilderness) about 18 years ago and there was a report of one near Aspen about 2 or 3 yrs ago. It is also their official position that there are no wolves in Colorado but I don’t believe this either. I used to believe it but not anymore.

    1. Kayla Avatar

      Catbestland, now I completely hear what you are saying. I also believe there are a few Grizzlies left back in the Colorado Rockies with espicelly back in the San Juans somewhere. I heard about this grizzly report that happened near Aspen. If I remember right it was from someone experienced with Grizzlies and it happened up near Independance Pass in the fall. It is because of political reasons that the Division of Wildlife in Colorado refuses to admit there are any grizzlies left in the state. Also I remember some outfitters who some years ago would go into the san Juans and was adament, there was a few Grizzlies back in the San Juans.

      1. Mtn Mamma Avatar
        Mtn Mamma

        Catbestland, I believe you could have seen a Griz in Colorado 18 yrs ago. Doug Peacock and his friends found scat & hair in the San Juans in the early 80s that tested positive for Grizzly DNA, yet a 2yr study (also in the 80s)by the Colorado DOW found nothing (they even used bait stations). The Grizzly sighting that you refer to near Aspen a few yrs ago was credible enough that the DOW sent crews out to look for evidence and came up with nothing. I too am skeptical that the CODOW is forthcoming with all info. that they have on contraversial species in the state. However,I doubt that there is a “population” of Grizzlies in Colorado due to the lack of genetic connectivity. I have read that the minimal viable population for a species to sustain itself is 100.

        1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
          SEAK Mossback

          That may generally be true, but there are a few populations that have pushed that limit for a long time. A recent study conducted in Berners Bay north of Juneau has found a maximum population of about 75 brown bears that have been effectively isolated for a long time by geological barriers (ice fields, rock and water) – so long that they are apparently nearly as genetically unique as the populations on the larger islands (Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof) that are separated from the mainland by considerable water and that have been found to share more genes with polar bears. There has been no study, but there are a few more bears that could be closely related to the Berners Bay bears in the Katzahin River drainage some distance to the north across quite rugged country and in a few drainages to the south toward Juneau. Also, 2 of the bears sampled in Berners Bay had very distinctive genes from Admiralty Island, which would have involved a minimum 3 mile swim and substantial distance by land. The Berners Bay bears are pretty well packed in a valley bottom area along three small rivers, with very little use of the steep mountainsides except for denning, and as one of the researchers says, “They all know each other”. Some of them move in circuits up one valley through a pass and down the other valley toward the flats by the bay. They are still sorting it out, but the other interesting thing is that one male appears to be doing a disproportionate percentage of the breeding which would seemingly compound the effect of a small population size.

          The small population size may well explain the wide variation in colors — I’ve seen them from very dark, appearing coal black in low light, to virtually as white as a polar bear. One male is white and he was found to be the father of two sets of white cubs. There are all combinations including beautiful reddish blonds, sometimes mixed on the same animal going from very dark legs to strawberry blond upper body to pure white ears. They also include some of the largest bears reported in the region, and the main bear technician who has handled hundreds of brown bears from Yakutat to Ketchikan noted abundant scarring, describing them as “feisty”.

          That and/or relatively little contact with humans could explain a seemingly higher rate of aggressive encounters and DLP (defense of life and property) kills than most places. No guides operate in the area (one commented that non-resident bear hunters wouldn’t be up for that terrain) and probably only one or two are killed annually by resident hunters, with DLP kills included. With a population that small that is self-regulating, it’s hard to say how a small number of removals affects long-term genetic viability — it probably depends on the specific animals removed. There have been proposals to liberalize resident hunting there to allow a bear to be taken every year instead of every 4-years with the idea that the very small number of locals who hunt bears there would remove more bears and help rebuild the moose population to speed return to a limited harvest, but ADF&G has opposed liberalized hunting and the Board of Game has not approved it. The study was supported by transportation funds to build a highway around the bay that would greatly increase access to the rivers and divide most of the drainage from the flats by the bay where bears forage on chocolate lily roots.

        2. SAP Avatar

          Mtn Mamma – could you provide a citation about “scat & hair in the San Juans in the early 80s that tested positive for Grizzly DNA”?

          I am skeptical of that, especially because there wasn’t that kind of DNA analysis technology available, really, until the mid 1990s.

          While part of me would love to see grizzlies in the San Juans or elsewhere in Colorado, another part of me wonders whether there is sufficient conflict-free country for them anywhere south of the Wind River Mountains. I’m tired of bloodbaths.

          1. Savebears Avatar

            I agree SAP, the types of test required to say there were grizz in the San Juan’s at that point in time, did not exist at that point in time.

            What we WANT and what we GET is more often than not, different.

      2. catbestland Avatar


        I live in the San Juans and I do not doubt for a minute that there are still some hold outs there. I once read a story about a piebald (pinto) grizzly that was sort of a land mark in the Lizard Head Wilderness in the San Juans near Telluride. This occurred back in the 50s I believe. The piebald coat could have been some sort of color gene mutation as a result of the lack of genetic diversity in the dwindling population. That’s my guess anyway.

  6. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Yellowstone Grizzly Report. Saw a beautiful Grizzly sow with two yearling cubs in Trout Creek yesterday. The sow had a lot of white or silver hair on her back as did one of her cubs. Lewis and Clark reported Grizzlies as “White Bears”. This cub would fit that description. Too far away for decent photos. There was a sow with a cub of the year at Indian Pond the day before yesterday.

  7. mtn mamma Avatar
    mtn mamma

    Seak, Interesting. These bears of which you speak sound beautiful. I think it would be wonderful if there were a “secret” group of Grizzlies living in the rugged Mountains of Colorado. The habitat is suitable. However, the San Juans are crawling w outfitters and their are a lot of folks in the back country in general here- just think they would be discovered if here.

  8. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Larry—the ” White” grizzlies reported by Lewis & Clark and their contemporaries were actually a now extinct subspecie called by us white euro people the ” Plains” grizzly , but the White Bear by natives. It was actually more of a tan or dun color like coyotes , just as most of the so-called Buffalo Wolves were of similar tan coloration. The Plains Grizzly was somewhat smaller and leaner, a whole lot meaner, quite a bit faster and had longer front claws than it’s nearby cousin the Yellowstone “brown” grizzly. It lived primarily away from the high country , preferring more open ground and the sagebrush country in our part of the world , and did a lot more digging like badgers. It was reputed to stalk humans, which is why they were summarily executed on sight by early explorers and the fur trappers. Undoubtedly the Yellowstone grizzly and the Plains grizzly had overlapping domains , since the grizzly family per se ranged from Hudson Bay to way down in Mexico in the Sierra Oeste mountains near Guadlajara, and all the way to the Pacific. There were seven subspecies of grizzly , pre-Lewis & Clark. Today , just the one remaining in the Lower 48, the GYE bear. I’m not convinced the bears of British Columbia and the Cabinet-Yaak-Glacier country are any different than Yellowstone , but might be mistaken on that.

    Carter Mountain , that magnificent 30 mile spur of the Absarokas south of Cody that divides the Shoshone River and the Greybull River was originally called White Bear Mountain.

    I would offer one other piece of ” anecdtoal” evidence here. Between the low point of the Yellowstone grizzly population prior to being listed as threatened in 1975 , estimated then as maybe 130-150 bears, ans the present day where the number is thought to be in the vicinity of 600, we have an obvious 4-fold increase in bear numbers, roughly , in 36 years. We haven’t had a corresponding 4-fold increase in bear incidents , or bear excursions that can’t be explained by other means such as climate change and habitat pressures forcing grizzlies to roam further for food . Meanwhile, human incursions into grizzly territory has also gone up dramatically . Subdivisions, roads, development, and especially —to my mind anyway —a remarkable and wholly unjustified increase in the number of licensed backcountry elk hunting camps on top of grizzly ground here in northwest Wyoming , has resulted in more bear-human conflicts.

    But who knows for sure, really ?

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Thanks for the history lesson CC! So much out there about wildlife – past and present.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Cody Coyote,

      If you count B.C., there are white (very blonde grizzly bears) in the area just northeast of New Denver.

      I saw and photographed one in the 1990s. I didn’t find it on my own. I was resting under a tree during some heavy rain and some B.C. folks came down the trail in the Selkirk Mountains and asked me if I had seen the white grizzly? I said I hadn’t so they led me about a quarter mile to where I could see across the broad canyon and there it was on a green slope next to a patch of melting late June snow.

      It was hard for me to see it at first because it was laying next to the snow. It was kind of a slightly off white, like old snow, but with binoculars I could make a definite identification.

      I only had about a 135mm zoom lens, so the photo is hard to tell from the snow.

      These white griz of the area are not to be confused with the Kermode white black bears of the SE Alaska coast.

      1. CodyCoyote Avatar

        Ralph—National Geographic has an excellent photo article on those white “Spirit Bears” of the temperate rain forest on the coast of B.C. in the August issue. That unique population is both revered and protected by the First Nation people there. Like you say they are of the black bear persuasion , not grizzly/brown bears, though. Amazing creatures . I had no idea , and always have mixed feelings when unique populations of animals are revealed , like the formerly secret enclaves of wintering Monarch Butterflies in the mountains of Michoacan Mexico, on the one hand now descended upon by tourists and on the other better protected byt he creation of preserves, although illegal logging still threatens them.

        Let’s hope the Kemode Spirit Bears remain isolated as an example of real conservation , demonstrating we collectively have the wisdom to mostly leave them alone and let them be bears.

        I’m sure some Great White Hunter is salivating at the notion of filling a space on his trophy headwall. Becasue I see their country cousins salivating to hammer a Wyoming grizzly…

        1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
          SEAK Mossback

          The Kermode bears are on the central B.C. coast and I’m pretty sure are legally protected. We have had a couple of white black bears in this area, one on the Juneau road system and one near Skagway. People have dubbed them “spirit bears” and there has been some controversy about legally protecting them — the law has gone back and forth, partly because of definition issues (they are not absolutely 100% white), not sure what it is now.

          A really beautiful phase of black bear that is specific to this area is the blue or “Glacier Bear” which is a smokey blue color. They are not really common or widespread — there was one around Juneau a few years ago. They are distributed amongst other color phases on the mainland from Cape Yakataga and the Yakutat Foreland through Glacier Bay to at least as far south as Juneau but are considerably more concentrated in Yakutat Bay and Russell Fjiord behind Yakutat.


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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Ralph Maughan