Large Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Mortality in 2012, but Gov’t Agency says pop grew anyway

At least 50 dead griz, but population said to grow by 15-

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem stretches over about 18-million acres and into 3 states. Grizzly bears inhabit about 2/3 of that to some degree, hardly being confined to the smallish 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone National Park.

Grizzly bear numbers have been growing for some time as well as has the size of the area where the bears are found. There is some belief that the bear density inside the Park itself has decreased a bit, however, and that the great bear is on the brink of a slow or maybe even precipitous decline because of the increasing failure of many of its primary sources of food — Yellowstone cutthroat trout, whitebark pine nuts, and elk inside Yellowstone.  There has been a furious controversy over the reasons for the decline of the major elk herd in the Park. It should be noted that there are 9 or so herds that use the Park.

Amid this controversy, a near record (preliminary) 50 grizzly deaths have been recorded this year and yet the Interagency grizzly bear team (IGBC) says the bear population grew from 593 to 608 between 2011-12.  Any person can access the number and details of the bear deaths at Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team – Mortality Database.

Although number of bear deaths is large this year, Mark Bruscino, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s large carnivore section supervisor, told the Casper Star Tribune that 3 of the dead adult female grizzlies had cubs of the year (5 in total). Due to their age, they probably have died or will die, though their deaths are not confirmed. Nevertheless, they are counted officially as mortalities.  This pushes the mortality figures up.

There was a large flurry of bear deaths in September (six).  No data has been posted on them yet.

One thing stands out above all. The vast majority of deaths were and always are in Wyoming although the occupied grizzly habitat includes increasingly large areas in Idaho and Montana too. Per acre, Wyoming deaths far exceed Idaho and Montana grizzly bear deaths.

Government officials say the population is doing well and will continue to do so, though conservationist detractors are skeptical because statements about the fine bear population are often accompanied by statements that the bear should be delisted, an event that would remove protection for the bear from some of the finest grizzly habitat.  Grizzly habitat is not constant in any one area, but it is officially treated that way. What is fine habitat at one time often becomes poor as natural and human made events transpire. The reverse is true too. Oil and gas development, subdivisions, invasions by non-native species (such as Lake Trout in Yellowstone lake), disease, wildfires, drought (as well as fine weather for bear habitat), are all examples of things that change the habitat quality.




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  1. Salle Avatar

    The biggest elephant in the room with the claims of “the population is doing fine” is that the gene pool isn’t expanding along with the population numbers which will lead to genetic problems in the long run. And there don’t appear to be any initiatives to facilitate a system of corridors ~ or any other methods considered ~ for that issue to be remedied.

    1. SAP Avatar

      Salle – not that it is the same thing as on-the-ground action, but see this monograph (posted this on a different thread in September):

      Wildlife Monograph on grizzly connectivity. A number of notable agency scientists are co-authors:

      “Population fragmentation and inter-ecosystem movements of grizzly bears in western Canada and the northern United States”

      It’s available for free (!) at

      From the abstract:

      “Although we detected enough male movement to mediate gene flow, the current low rate of female movement detected among areas is insufficient to provide a demographic rescue effect between areas in the immediate future (0–15 yr). . . . Without female connectivity, small populations are not viable over the long term. The persistence of this regional female fragmented metapopulation likely will require strategic connectivity management.”

      1. Salle Avatar

        Thanks SAP,

        I was looking for that!

      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        I think that for genetic conservation of this wonderful grizzly population the only politically feasible solution is the artificial insemination of several female bears with semen from a diverse bear population in northern B.C..

        I want to note that the grizzly population in Jasper and Banff is beleaguered and genetically impoverished too.

      3. Kayla Avatar

        Personally I think they should transfer a few bears from other populations, like bring down a few from up in Glacier to help with this situation.

        Now didn’t they do this with the Cougar population that was in the everglades. they brought in a few from the outside and it did wonders for the population.

  2. Kayla Avatar

    Personally for myself this is Great News!!! Am glad to hear that they have the number up this year to what – 608. Woohoo! But in actuality this does not surprise me for in my recent wanderings in the Thorofare and the Southern Absarokas, it seems everywhere I have gone as of late, do see Grizzly prints and scat. I would personally not be surprised if there was even more of them! Now with everything facing these wild lands, the bears are smart. I personally with having many a close encounter to the bears am still here in one piece. I trust them more it seems nowdays then most people. Hope they stay on the endangered species list and are not hunted. In my opinion, how could anyone kill a bear.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Kayla is the whitebark pine still holding up in the area?

      1. Kayla Avatar

        Ralph, now you wonder about the Whitebark Pine in the Southern Absarokas. They seem to be holding there own in my opinion. Of course I always see those stands that are dead and dying. But then am always coming across green stands and new green trees that are coming up.

        Now from what I have heard and read in various places, it seems that maybe 25% of the Whitebark Pines are resistant to Blister Rust. So maybe thru time, these trees will become more and more of the population as the trees that are not resistant to Blister Rust fall by the wayside. Guess evolution at work.

        Also more and more when I look, how many Whitebarks do I find in the medium elevations where the forests are green mixed in with the other trees like at Hawks Rest. Probably came from when a nutcracker was flying overhead with a cone and then dropped the cone by mistake. And when I come on these trees, they are so often so green.

        I guess am not as much as alarmist on this as others. Yes one does see whitebarks dying. But then if one really looks, do see green ones and new green whitebarks coming up. So do think that they will go on.

        Plus as when it comes to the Grizzly. They are more intelligent then we human two leggeds might given them credit for. They are omnivores just like us. I have seen them feeding on the same mountainside for days and wondering just what they are eating to be on one mountain for some days. Also onetime came on a meadow right when the meadow had melted out in the spring absolutely covered with grizzly tracks. It had not even begun to green up yet. Later figured they must have been feeding on earthworms.

        Am not surprised the grizzly population is increasing for everywhere I go in this country, I see plenty of grizzly tracks and sign.

        To finish, I consider the grizzly as the master teacher. I love them and when I watch them just how much do I learn from them. How much can all the wild animals and residents of this country teach us human two leggeds it seems.

        Hope this helps! Wishing You the Best!

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          Thank you for the good news.

          Because my days of walking back into the deep Absaroka are over, I’m doubly glad you are in there having a great time and watching what is going on.

          1. CodyCoyote Avatar

            There is the Absaroka-wide high resolution aerial photo study of Whitebark done in 2009-2010 . The images easily resolved individual trees.

            If only I knew how to get my hands on those images… Louisa Willcox at al at NRDC had a hand in it.

        2. Nancy Avatar

          Kayla – I’m curious, in your travels, have you run across any stands of old growth aspens dead or dying? I’m seeing a lot of that in my area of southwest Montana and wondering what might be going on. Disease, bugs, a sad reminder of climate change?

          Use to have two beautiful ribbons of fall colors (aspens along two creeks) across the way every fall but a third, if not more, of those trees are now dead.

          1. Kayla Avatar

            Nancy, yes at times I might come across some dead and dying Aspens. But mostly what I am seeing now rather back in the Absarokas or here near Jackson, is how many groves of young Aspens that are coming up. It seems as if in some areas, there are young Aspens coming up everywhere! It seems as if this might be more then what I remember when I was younger it seems. One place is here up along Cache Creek right outside of Jackson where I have gone for years. And as for the Thorofare in the Absarokas, many young aspens coming up along the sides of the Thorofare. And have seen young Aspens coming up wayyy up the Yellowstone near the headwaters seemingly far from any other Aspens. I know several reasons for this might be because of the fires of ’88 and the other because of the wolves. But whatever the reason, in some of the areas I go to, when these Aspens grow up, it will be gorgeous in those areas.

            1. Nancy Avatar

              Thank you Kayla, for those “on the ground and around” observations 🙂

      2. SAP Avatar

        Ralph, I haven’t been into the Teton Wilderness in a few years, but have been up in the DuNoir, 5 Pockets, East Fork Wind River; plus some time in the Winds between South Pass & Sinks.

        Just eyeballing things and comparing with other places, it appears that whitebark survival might be a little higher in the Wind River basin. There is beetle kill, lots of it. But the beetle “wave” appears to have crested and broken, and may be receding now.

        Most of GYE, I’d say the beetle epidemic is declining mainly because they have eaten themselves out of house and home.

        In that high, cold country out of Dubois, the epidemic is receding while a good number of mature, cone-producing trees are still alive. It may just be elevation — just a little to high & cold for beetles. Maybe a combo of moisture, elevation, and topographic barriers to beetle dispersal. Can’t say.

        Make no mistake, there are still thousands of acres of dead whitebark out there. But there’s still quite a bit alive out there, too. We were surprised to see a lot of scats that were all Palb seed hulls in that neighborhood this fall.

        Here in southwest MT, we’re finding a few mature trees that survived while thousands of neighboring trees died. What’s up with that? Could be genetic resistance to beetles. Could be luck — so many beetles in the neighborhood putting out the “NO VACANCY” phermone that it kept beetles away.

        1. Kayla Avatar

          SAP, thanks for your reply! Now I have to sooooo agree with you, like you said, that the beetle wave has seemingly crested and now broken and seemingly retreating in the country I have been in. I remember that the beetles first cane thru the very headwaters of the Yellowstone and the surrounding country in the 90’s and how they devestated the forests in the high country. This soooo saddened me at the time. The beetles it seems, as you said, ate themselves out of house and home. But they did NOT touch the small green trees it seems growing underneath the mature forests. This is importaant. Last summer in some of the drainages where I was in, and which was devestated by the beetles, that forest underneath is now starting to come into it’s own it seems. How much is that dead old beetle killed forest there in the high country now starting to disappear as the new forests are coming into there own it seems.

          Yes like you, there are plenty of dead whitebarks out there which are easy to find. But do come upon these green whitebarks also and new young whitebarks coming up. And like I said before, if one looks, it is not always just up high but down lower also. I have come upon whitebarks along the Soda Fork Meadows down low beneath the higher ridges above and in the Thorofare like at Hawks Rest. I just wonder how they get to these lower elevations? On the young whitebarks, if infected with blister rust, how long does it take for the young trees to be infected with blister rust do wonder.

          Thanks again SAP for your reply. Glad that like me you are coming upon green whitebarks also. Wishing You the Best!

          1. SAP Avatar

            Kayla – on those lower-elevation, isolated whitebarks: my guess is, it’s nutcrackers planting them. Sometime nutcrackers (who peck the cones apart, storing seeds in a pouch under their tongues) will fly miles away to make a seed cache. They can evidently remember 100s if not 1000s of cache locations, but they tend to make more caches than they can remember. Or, the spatial arrangement of objects that helps them re-locate caches changes, or the individual bird that made the cache dies.

            Result: new whitebarks! Sometimes miles from the nearest other whitebarks.

            Some of the fires we’ve had may help out with whitebark regeneration, too. Burn out shade-tolerant competing species like sub-alpine fir, and give the nutcrackers a good seedbed for planting new trees.

        2. Nancy Avatar

          “It may just be elevation — just a little to high & cold for beetles. Maybe a combo of moisture, elevation, and topographic barriers to beetle dispersal. Can’t say”

          SAP – interesting you would mention that since I’ve noticed here (looking across this valley and at other areas that sweep up to higher elevations) there seems to be a defining line where bettle kill is obvious and then no sign above that line/elevation.

  3. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Of course, the Grizzly population numbers are not a census , merely a figure generated by a computer model. If you like and trust political poll numbers, you’ll simply go ga-ga over grizzly bear prognostication. Bring me some more bear hair off that fence, Igor, and we shall divine the number of grizzly bears in yon region using mitochrondial DNA extrapolation, with the proper incantation…

    A year ago, a Wyoming Game and Fish senior manager named John Emmerich waved his hands in the air before the seated Commission and swore there were at least a thousand grizzly bears, maybe 1400, just in Wyoming. What do they know, really ?

    1. Salle Avatar

      I know they probably aren’t counting the bears on the Wind River… but that’s all I have to say about that.

      1. Leslie Avatar

        Salle, How many bears do you think are in the Winds area? Last year I did hear about a sow and cubs hanging out all summer in New Forks meadows. This year I ran into a person who saw a griz in the Pole Creek area.

        And absolutely, where is the conversation about connectivity. I’ve read that without that, it doesn’t matter the number of bears in the GYE, they are eventually doomed to extinction here.

    2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      Grizzly/brown bears are such individuals and creatures of habit that it is difficult to design any estimation scheme that assumes “all the marbles are mixed”, equal catchability, etc. It is very difficult to account and control for all the likely biases.

  4. Sam Parks Avatar

    Does anybody know if this number is the result of the old counting technique or the new counting technique? My impression was that they would use both methods for 2012 and 2013 to see if they differed:

    1. Gregg Losinski Avatar
      Gregg Losinski

      That number is using the “old” method. The “new” method will be up for peer review and public comment soon. A “new” number was presented at last weeks YES meeting that utilized what the IGBST considered to be more accurate vital rates. Using the new info, the population was 716, with 95% confidence of 638-794 bears.

  5. SEAK Mossback Avatar

    It’s interesting that 7 were killed by other bears, or cubs that subsequently perished after the sows were killed by other bears — also 1 killed by wolves and a couple of other natural mortalities. There was one bear shot by hikers . . . but only one (a sow) listed as shot in self defense by hunters (although both her cubs died). However, I suppose there could be others under the category “known, human caused, under investigation”.

    Speaking of conflicts with hunters, a friend lost a deer and (so far) a substantial amount of gear last weekend on Admiralty. He was dropped off along the shoreline by three companions who then anchored a mile down the beach before they started hunting. He dragged a Sitka blacktail buck out of the forest a few hours later, left it a few feet into the beach fringe next to his survival gear, float coat, camera, etc. and hunted the beach fringe back toward the boat. They all returned a little over an hour later in the skiff and he walked up unarmed to retrieve the deer and gear, approaching within feet before seeing a brown bear on the deer. He backed away and it took six steps toward him before going back to the deer. They all got out of the boat and tried advancing abreast, yelling and waving, but the bear was loath to give up its great pre-hibernation gold mine — did not act aggressive directly toward them but hunkered down and started violently ripping and thrashing the deer. They gave up and returned to town, and he was hoping to go over this weekend and retrieve his stuff, but the weather is not good for boating with the Taku winds blowing, and not forecast to improve anytime soon. I mentioned one thing they could have tried that they did not think about — the flare gun in their emergency kit, as pretty much everybody keeps a few old expired flares in addition to the 3 newer ones required by the Coast Guard. Otherwise, one bear got a reward from a hunter — not a great thing for future visitors in the area. My wife and I used to camp and hunt in that very spot in the 1980s before kids, and often had deer hanging from a tree by camp . . . . the only trouble we attracted in those years was martens.


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