Greater Yellowstone griz to seek food in lower elevations this autumn
Poor whitebark pine crop but a good berry crop brings bears lower and closer to people-
This year as the Yellowstone country grizzly bears enter their time of peak appetite to prepare for hibernation they have a good berry crop to fatten on. However, there is a poor crop of the oil and protein rich whitebark pine nuts. The last two years brought the opposite — good crops of pine nuts. Last year too also saw strong grizzly use of the high elevation, army cutworm moths.
Will it be a wash for the hungry bears? Perhaps so in terms of food available, but the whitebark pine are high on the ridges, mostly in the deep backcountry and wilderness, and far away from most people. Berry patches, however, are spread out over the lower elevations of the Park, and in many places are even more abundant on the adjacent national forests and private lands. Here is where they are more likely to run into people and vice versa.
A recent news release says, “Forest officials have observed a significant increase in bear activity at lower elevations near trails, roads, and developments where bears are foraging for berries, bison carcasses, digging ant hills, and ripping open logs for ants.” As a result hikers, hunters, berry pickers, campers need to be wary of things like carcasses and places with berries, even apple orchards near the Park. They need to carry pepper spray. The bears can also be found far from the Park. For example, Island Park in Idaho, the Beartooth Front in Montana, and the Wind Rivers, Mt. Leidy Highlands, and Gros Ventre in Wyoming.
This year grizzly encounters have resulted in no human deaths, nor even any severe injuries. Most problematic have been the control kills of grizzlies for taking down a few sheep and cattle, mostly well south of the Park. So far this year 21 grizzlies have died or been put down (see 2013 mortality list). At this time last year 29 were already dead. Fifty-six dead was the year end total (see 2012 report). So mortality wise, so far 2013 is an improvement. In fact 2012 was a terrible year for grizzly deaths, especially in Wyoming.
Statistics regardless, the grizzly bears are now spread out, feeding at low elevations. This worries people and wildlife/land management agencies are warning folks. It would be hard, however, for 2013 to be as bad as 2012.
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.
25 Responses to Greater Yellowstone griz to seek food in lower elevations this autumn
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For the flatlanders visiting grizzly country this autumn, our friends to the north have produced a lively video to help the uninitiated discern the difference between black bears and grizzly bears. Truly, it’s a great educational piece and so much fun I think I need another ginger and rye whilst I watch it again! http://youtu.be/Cos8SeP0fqE
Thanks Rob! Funny video 🙂
Ha! Very cute! “Grizzlies in the alpine, on the incline”. 🙂
ginger and rye?
possibly a Wiser’s Very Old? I always grab a bottle when I’m in Churchill, before going out in the field.
In a effort to stir some debate the above article is about grizzlies in search of food in the autumn. What happens when those grizzlies are living at lower elevation most the year?
Some parts of Montana have grizzlies killing livestock at a fairly high rate but very little of that here. The problem is we have grizzlies in yards where small kids live. Where people change irrigation water, fix fence and check crops.
Part of the solution is simply changing how one lives, this takes time and education. We already have fenced calving yards, fenced bee yards and pickup of road killed wildlife and pickup of dead livestock. Must we now fence our homes and yards so the kids can play outside? Must we carry bear spray as we go about our daily work?
Now most of you will probably think how cool it would be to be able to see grizzlies all the time and it is cool in most instances. All it takes is that uncool instance to make you question how much is too much.
I would like to hear your thoughts on a debate that is coming to a boil in my area, living with a ever growing grizzly population. How do we continue to find the funds to fence yards, pay range riders, lower our conflict rates, fund a compensation fund and live with grizzlies and wolves. I don’t want to hear about wolves or the animals were here first or the usual anti ranching crap because for everyone of you that feels that way there’s someone here who would rather just shoot the SOB’s neither is a solution to the problem. Fixing most these problems takes time and money and I don’t see a lot of that coming from the so called animal lovers. How do you that claim to be animal lovers help those of us who are living with those animals hold the landscape together to benefit all? Thoughts anyone…
There was a recent article in the Jackson Hole News that says most of the grizzly bear conflicts are in Wyoming by far.
Anyone can see that this is true by reading the IDBC grizzly bear mortality reports, which I have linked to many times and do again in the articles I wrote on grizzlies this week.
No children have been hurt or killed by grizzly bears. It is always livestock that the authorities worry about.
I am on my way to the GYC conference. A substantial portion of the members live in the Greater Yellowstone, and yes in grizzly bear country. In fact one director was bitten by grizzly south of Cody this summer.
We don’t hear him carrying on about this.
As for myself, I think I have had more up close exposure to grizzlies in my life than you — many hundreds of days, mostly riding, backpacking, camping by myself right in the middle of grizzly country. I mean with them near my tent.
It is a matter of attitude in my opinion.
Well I spend every day in grizzly country so I doubt you’ve had more close encounters, I’ll put my 1000’s of days up against your 100’s.
Your right it is a matter of attitude, but how do you work with or help people who are facing grizzlies now who have not had to in the past.
I have friends who have to check for the collared sow in their area before letting the kids go outside to play.
Again with the no children have been hurt line, mostly because parents care about their offspring and are over protective.
Also I’m talking about the people who are concerned about bears not what the authorities are concerned about.
One of the problems is attitudes like yours you spend your free time in bears country and relish that time then you go back home, you don’t have to spend every moment in bear country. Think of living like you do in the back country every moment of the day and night.
You have said on this forum that your ranch is 7000 acres of fee property. It is not public property. After one leaves the national forest on the Rocky Mountain Front most of the land is fee with some BLM and State land interspersed.
I was reading in the Billings Gazette the other day that the local Red Lodge FWP biologist, Shawn Stewart who is a friend of mind, estimates that there is 20 grizzly bears on the Beartooth Front and reports of grizzlies north of Roberts, Montana. This is 15 miles north of National Forest land.
I love grizzlies and all wildlife. Grizzlies 15 or 20 miles from public land is eventually going to create a problem that will end with a dead bear, hopefully not a dead or injured person.
What is the solution?
I’ve been living with grizzlies ever since I move back to Montana 19 years ago. My answer has been always have a couple dogs. My dogs against normal convention live outside, most of the wildlife that live in the area know them and know their territory. Very seldom do bears, lions, wolves ect. venture into my yard and I don’t have to worry when I’m in the woods with them. The first dogs grew up with bears and the old dogs have always taught the young dogs the ropes. I can usually tell from the barks if their dealing with a black bear or grizzly. They know bears and I have always been there during a wolf encounter, but at some point I won’t be there for them on a wolf encounter.
Electric fencing works well with bears but not wolves. We’re starting to see fencing every where like summer back country camps. Ever seen grizzly tracks where they’ve stolen a bull elk off the meat rack and that elk never touches the ground. Fences cost money and how do you tell a Montana kid they can only play inside the fence, and that’s all year because we’re seeing more and more winter grizzly tracks.
What is the solution?
A few years ago I got to visit a homestead near Lake Clark National Park, AK. The guy who owned the property ran a bear-viewing operation (we saw 15 at one time) but also had livestock (i.e., sheep and goats). He used a dog (wolf-hybrid, actually) to keep the bears away from his livestock. He actually called her a ‘bear dog’ and said his family had always had at least one.
A guy who worked the past couple of years on one of the salmon weirs I oversee has a very nice lab-husky mix that is basically his family. Her instinct was to bark at bears, but she learned to suppress it after being repeatedly upbraided for barking at passing or fishing brown bears that were minding their business. However, by the end of the season last year, the bears were getting pretty edgy due to a relatively small salmon run and a few new animals, including a male or two, began frequenting the weir where fishing is easier. One day, one of the males suddenly turned and ran up the weir face for his dog who was standing on the catwalk, and Wayne immediately dashed to her aid with his can of bear spray. When I asked how it had worked to repel the bear, he said “I have no idea”. In his zeal, he had pulled the trigger on the spray during full charge and ran into the cloud — after which he forgot about all else and held his face in the creek for 20 minutes.
Regarding your response above to ELk, if grizzly bears are such an irritation, why did you purchase a large acreage there? Or if you inherited it, why not sell it for other land?
There are many conservation buyers of land who value the presence of grizzly bears. I mean that it why they buy it.
I personally don’t have a problem with bears either type, I think they make great neighbors. The problem is occurring further down the valley, the reason for my first questions. I’m looking for answers from here because of a meeting I have to find some solutions for those people.
“Your right it is a matter of attitude, but how do you work with or help people who are facing grizzlies now who have not had to in the past.”
This is a great question, Bob. Believe it or not, we’re dealing with a similar issue here in Ohio with black bears (returning to areas they haven’t occupied in a century). I know you don’t want this to be about wolves (who could blame you), but I think the issue is similar, whether we are talking about wolves, grizzlies, black bear or cougar. The return of a large carnivore is perceived as a “new” hazard by those that must learn to live around them.
What we know from the psych literature is that two factors fundamentally affect people’s risk perceptions: (a) the dread associated with the hazard, and (b) the novelty (newness) of that hazard. Recovering carnivores are high on both of these factors, creating risk perceptions that are not in line with actual risk. (Our lab has good evidence of this in Ohio.)
As to what we can do about it… I’m not sure there is a ‘silver bullet’ solution here (as much as some folks enjoy solutions with bullets). Rather, I think it will be a combination of providing info on how to live with these animals, subsidizing efforts to protect homes/livestock from these species (e.g., bear-proof trash cans), and time–time for people to re-learn how to live around large carnivores and for their risk perceptions to align with actual risk. I’d be curious to hear others’ views?
Of course people look after children because there are many dangers in the woods, but if you look at injury or mortality for them there, wild animal attacks of all kinds are way down the list
It’s going to take time, $, and open minds, not just from the ranching communities. In an indirect answer to your question, statewide organizations need to replace organizations like DOW. If/when this happens, and $ comes in, the stand by of we’ve always done it this way holds no water.
It’s not a one way street in either direction. Will take time, people will get pissed, but as with most things gray, the answer is not in the far white or black.
Got no grizzlies here, but saw a presentation by Charlie Russell on grizzlies. He has lived among them in Kamchatka, and if I remember correctly, has a ranch in B.C. His whole premise was we need to understand grizzlies, not fear them. I guess that’s easy for the individual to say.
I think your questions and concerns are valid, and the solutions are as of yet, a ways off. But grass roots organizations need to be formed for any of the true solutions to come forth.
An organization such as Howling for Wolves in MN holds some hope for what is going on here.
Thanks, but I have a meeting next week dealing with how to help people who are dealing with grizzlies in their yards now. Part of the answer is understanding grizzlies. Part of the problem is people who spend little or no time with grizzlies who think it’s a simple matter.
Brother, believe me when I say it’s not a simple matter.
The Wind River Bear Institute is just up U.S. 93 south of Lolo, MT.
“WRBI has been successful in working to save black and grizzly bears since 1996. Through our Partners-In-Life ® and Wind River Karelian Bear Dogs ® Programs, we provide Bear Shepherding, ® the only alternative currently available to save problem bears from relocation and almost certain eventual destruction.”
Check out the Karelian bear dogs–
Rancher Bob you ask some good questions. I hope you can accept some good answers. Living with bears is a change in attitude, but it is not difficult. After four summers of being up close and personal almost every day and taking folks who were not used to seeing bears to see them, I found that it takes about 30 minutes of exposure and gentle teaching to show someone that they can be safe around bears. It took a little longer to teach every year’s new staff members not to go rushing out their cabin doors in the night, not to think that bears weren’t around just because they couldn’t see them and to teach them to be calm and purposeful around the animals. Bears understand smells and body language and humans can use these senses to develop a mutual trust. Charlie Russell is better at describing this and if you get a chance to view his video “Edge of Eden”, it is a graphic example of how this can be achieved. People who are now experiencing bears where they haven’t been can be helped to understand how to coexist by exposure to the literature and films made by people who have lived successfully with the animals. We are all so tempted to tell the great stories of encounters and scare the living daylights out of the uninitiated. It is too bad it is not just as tempting to show them how to haze a bear with a minimum of effort and how to reach a boundary agreement with your local bruin with just a few actions. Bears are so smart that they learn the first time. With a little help and research people can give them the right message the first time.
I thought your name rang a bell.
Finished “Lonesome for Bears” a few months ago. A great book, thanks!
Did a little bit of hiking and camping in eastern Washington this summer, and had in my mind your unexpected encounter with a grizzly north of the Columbia River that you mentioned in your book.
I agree it is attitude to a large extent. Although I don’t live in grizzly country, I visit it often and my attitude has changed over the years. Back in the 60’s when I first came to Montana from Wisconsin, I feared a bear was behind every bush. And, for many years, spent most of my wilderness time in central Idaho to avoid the fearsome grizzly. The Bob Marshall country was a place I couldn’t sleep well. I have, however, adapted as I have gotten older. We practice the best bear country camping and hiking techniques, carry bear spray, and some will disagree with this, a large caliber sidearm. I met a girl once that was killed in Glacier during the fall of 1976, and I don’t intend it to happen to my wife or I. But, I have realized over the years the probabilities of a grizzly attack are definitely possible, but unlikely with proper behavior. There are always exceptions, however. In the last three years, Lynn and I have encountered many grizzlies in the Bob and Scapegoat, most at close range, with no problems (yet). As Rancher Bob stated, dogs can be a help, but only if well-trained and obedient, as apparently his are. The two dogs we have are great in the wilds. The more I go into grizzly country, the more I love it, and enjoy the fact that the grizzly is around. Ten years ago, I would never thought I would have said that.
“After four summers of being up close and personal almost every day and taking folks who were not used to seeing bears to see them, I found that it takes about 30 minutes of exposure and gentle teaching to show someone that they can be safe around bears”
Linda Jo – always enjoy reading your comments and wondering if there’s any chance you and Rancher Bob could hook up and you could share your knowledge with him, regarding big bears in his neighborhood?
Given the statistics related to drunks driving in the state, I’d be far more worried about that fact, then a bear encounter around the ole homestead.
JB said “Recovering carnivores are high on both of these factors, creating risk perceptions that are not in line with actual risk.”
That is my experience. I live in heavy bear country. Taking the correct precautions is, of course, necessary. But people imagine there is a bear around every tree, lurking, just waiting to pounce on a person. The reality is bears want to avoid people.
The best book I’ve ever read is William Wright’s book The Grizzly Bear from 1909. And the ‘Edge of Eden’ is the best video I’ve seen. Linda Jo is right. If you watch the video you will learn more from Russell’s body language around grizzlies than any book. Reading books on Grizzly attacks won’t teach much except a paranoid attitude.
Nothing is risk free, including hiking or living in bear country. But I’d say bear attacks are very low on the list of ways to die or get hurt.
Thanks everyone for their input, I’ll take it with me to my meeting. Linda Jo thanks for the Edge of Eden video 88 minutes of flash backs of conversation I’ve had with bears though the years. Maybe we can swap a tracking day with a living with bears community talk. You were the only one who mentioned that part of the learning process also belonged to the bears.