Surprise. 2013 is a year of low grizzly bear mortality

Year isn’t over but griz deaths in Greater Yellowstone only about half of 2012-

Earlier we wrote that grizzly bear deaths in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem (GYE) this year appeared lower than expected.  It was hard to say more at the time because the government was shut down and the official grizzly mortality count was not being updated. Then only 21 dead griz had been identified. Now with the count updated, four deaths have been added. That’s a total of 25 bears. All new deaths are undated with little information given, but they are all being investigated. Three of the 4 are known to be human caused.

Last year 56 dead grizzlies were known and the year before 44 mortalities. 2010 saw 50 dead griz and 2009, 31.

Informed speculation was that this fall might see a lot of grizzly deaths because the whitebark pine crop failed and the bears were already down low in many places due to a good year for berries.  There is often a lot of bear food down low in the fall, but a lot of people and property too, with bears often killed for trivial reasons like the death of a few chickens.

The year isn’t over. Most bears are not yet denned. In the past there have been November mortalities in the GYE, but judging from the official statistics, this looks like a very good year.

Link: Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team Mortality database 2009-13







  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I observed a grizzly called “Scarface” in Yellowstone last week. He had a radio collar around his neck that was obviously too tight. He had scratched two new sores of the right side of his face trying to remove the collar.
    Photographers from Cody,Wyoming, who have observed this bear for many years, informed me that this was the tenth (10th) collar that this poor bear had been subjected to and that he had been darted and drugged on at least fourteen (14) occasions to replace batteries or collars.
    Scarface is 24 years old and has a history of trying scratch off collars and ear tags during his lifetime. He has scratched off his right ear and his face is heavily scarred from self inflicted wounds (hence his name) while trying to rid himself of the irritating collars. Recollaring this old bear over and over is criminal and the researchers involved should be fired and arrested.(I put in a written complaint to the Mammoth visitor center this morning)
    If other grizzly bears are mistreated like Scarface, then abusive research may be one of the main reasons for Grizzly mortality.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Let us know what happens on this if you can.

  2. Barrie Gilbert Avatar
    Barrie Gilbert

    Despite my history of rejecting continued collaring of grizzlies in Yellowstone I believe it is most likely that this old male has received scars from fights with other males. I have studied grizzlies (observationally) for 35 years in AK, BC and WY and seen many scars on the heads of males. I have a few myself from a grizzly:)
    I have never seen a bear that has torn its own skin from trying to get a collar off. The Yellowstone team knows how to put collars on bears and they place cotton strips in the collars so that snagging or old collars come off.
    I would like to see the collaring end and the efforts put into improving habitat, an implementation that is known to improve things for bears.
    This blog is my favorite because of the quality of the commentary and general civility and respect of people contributing. Thanks Ralph.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Thank you Dr. Gilbert. Scarface no doubt got his nickname for one or more facial wounds.

      This situation sounds interesting. I wonder if the bear should be put down?

      I did ask Larry T. to give followups on the situation if he is in the position to do so and wants to.

      1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

        The photographers from Wyoming said they have watched Scarface sit and scratch at his collars and ear tags repeatedly over the years and they say that the scars are NOT from fighting other bears.
        I said that I was going to turn in a complaint to the Park Service and they assured me that the wounds and scars were self inflicted.
        I observed this bear at close range(30 feet) last week when he crossed the road near my vehicle and he had two new wounds on the right side of his face. The largest wound had pine needles embedded in the scab.The smaller wound was open and not scabbed over. His right ear was only a short stub. I did not see any ear tags in his ears. The collar looked way too tight from my vantage point.
        With the roads closed at the east entrance, I will not see these photographers any time soon.
        I talked to a young man last Sunday who said he was working on a park research project and that he had attached radios recently to bats, white footed mice and boreal toads.
        I saw bears, wolves,bison and elk with radio collars during the past two weeks.
        I saw bighorn ewes outside of the park and two of them had two radio collars each. It looked like they had a standard radio collar AND a GPS collar on the same neck.

      2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

        The folks that see Scarface repeatedly say he is fatter than last year and should survive the winter in good shape. He crosses the parking lot at the Wapiti trail head and goes accross the Chittaden bridge every few days during late October.He was observed several times during the last half of October this year.I saw him at close range on two occasions.
        What he needs, is to have the collar removed and be able to spend the rest of his days as a wild and free bear.

  3. CodyCoyote Avatar

    A grizzly was killed just this past week on the North Fork of the Shoshone outside east Yellowstone. Details are purposefully sketchy for now during the initial investigation , but I suspect it was a typical Hunter vs. Bear conflict. T

    This bear death is not yet in the mortality tally for 2013.

  4. Barrie Gilbert Avatar
    Barrie Gilbert

    Larry, thanks for the detail. I am wrong and I accept your interpretation. I know that animals, especially males whose necks grow when breeding or grow large late in the fall, react to tight collars by fighting them. So your suggestion that this male is one of these is most reasonable. It seems like it is time to take the collar off and let this guy go on with his life.
    BTW I wrote a contract report way back in 1987 on the negative effects of capture on grizzlies for the IGBC. My report was buried. A recent peer-reviewed publication by Cadet et al. confirmed my earlier conclusions. Time to evaluate the continued capture of these magnificent creatures. They are not numbers.

  5. Deby Dixon Avatar
    Deby Dixon

    Ralph Maughan, are you nuts? Put a bear down because he takes each and every collar off that the park has put on him? You want to euthanize a wild, 26 year old grizzly bear, a park favorite, because he doesn’t want to wear a collar? It is a well-documented fact that this bear has mangled his face and ears while taking his collars off. The damage is done and he functions fine, leave the bear alone. It would be nice if he didn’t have to die wearing one, after fighting so hard to get one off recently, only to have another put back on about one week later. Maybe I am missing something here, but doesn’t it seem a little harsh to euthanize a bear for rejecting an atrocity that man has put on him? I am just asking the questions, your statement seems bizarre to me. I will see what my readers have to say about it.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      No, Deby. I am not nuts, but I did need more information, and I’m glad Larry gave it. So thanks Larry and Barrie for turning this into a discussion thread.

      I thought maybe the bear was suffering from an acute infection and might be dangerous and in terminal pain. Well, he might be yet.

      I do think these research bears need be treated much better than they often are, and the researchers should realize that the value of wild animals in wild places is usually more important than their research.

      From what I think I know now, the collar should be removed, and the self-scared old guy live out the rest of his life, but would he die if they captured him yet again? They seem to have created a real problem!

  6. Deby Dixon Avatar
    Deby Dixon

    Also, I’m curious, if you are curious about what will happen to the grizzly population in the coming months because the whitebark pine crop failed, then why would you even consider a discussion about delisting at this time? Why not wait to see what this winter does to the population. We all know that the bears are still scrambling for food right now and the potential for loss, particularly if the winter is as bad as the thick coats of fur look like it will be, is high. I would venture to guess, as a lay person, that the mortality rates could be high and in that event a delisting would have been premature. I sure hope that you reconsider and make a decision to get the facts first, even the new ones that are developing at this late time. If that doesn’t happen, I would have to wonder about motivation and other factors.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I haven’t written a story on the IGBC’s recent Bozeman meeting yet, so I don’t have anything to reconsider.

      However, I think the delisting is premature, Deby; and it will always be premature with the small primary conservation area they have selected. It isn’t enough to feed the bear population because it is considerably smaller than the grizzly bear occupied area.

      1. Deby Dixon Avatar
        Deby Dixon

        Thanks Ralph, I apologize for over-reacting when reading the suggestion about euthanizing Scarface. Obviously, there would be quite an uproar over such an event. The general consensus is that he should be allowed to be collar free, given that he has hurt himself so terribly while getting the darned things off.

        I appreciate your comment about the delisting and look forward to your writing on the topic. Thank you.

    2. WM Avatar

      Deby Dixon,

      ++ We all know that the bears are still scrambling for food right now and the potential for loss, particularly if the winter is as bad as the thick coats of fur look like it will be, is high.++

      So, you actually believe GB fur thickness is a sign (scientific predictor) of a bad winter?

      Looks like the IGBC doesn’t think lack of pine nuts is as big a problems as some think it is for GB survival.

      Wonder what Dr. Gilbert thinks regarding both topics?

  7. Deby Dixon Avatar
    Deby Dixon

    Thanks for the answer Ralph. And, you are correct, he could still be in danger. The fact is that Scarface was very thin when he lost the last collar but he has since put on quite a lot of weight and looks much better than he did mid-summer. I can see where, given that he has gotten so many collars off and that he was thing, that the collar could be too tight for him now. I do hope that it gets checked out. Put a trap out and Scarface will show up for a free meal.

  8. Kathleen Avatar

    “What he needs, is to have the collar removed and be able to spend the rest of his days as a wild and free bear.”

    Agreed! Seems like every fourth animal at YNP is collared–enough is enough! We once watched wolves converge and skirmish at Blacktail Ponds; one poor wolf was in constant torment from vermin (or something) under his/her collar–all the poor animal could do was scratch, endlessly scratch. Seems like that would have to compromise their health in the long (or maybe not-so-long) run.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Yes, it would seem he’s done his bit for research, and has earned his freedom?

    2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      Radio collars on wolves are mange mite motels.
      I watched the mange infested Druid Pack attempt to catch an elk in the Lamar River shortly before they all died. Any time they were on the bank warming up, they spent most of their time scratching at the mange mites under their collars.With no hair left on their tails, they were sad things to behold.
      Treating injured or diseased wildlife in Yellowstone is brushed off by park authorities as being “unnatural”. Somehow helicopter chases, drug darts and radio collars slip under their “unnatural” radar.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        You mean to tell me that they can’t dab a little Frontline on them at the same time? It might help with the moose and deer too, and help with the spread of diseases. 🙂

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          or help control the spread of diseases.

    1. WM Avatar

      Here is a little better article on the Canadian GB dilemma- whether the BC government should allow them to be hunted in such large numbers without significant risk:

      Hunting of grizzlies, especially females, exceeds B.C. government targets: new study.

      1. CodyCoyote Avatar

        The real problems with sustaining Grizzlies in Canada is in Alberta, not BC.

    2. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      I think this ought to be interesting, when the USF&W tries to justify the delisting of Grizzlies the way they did with wolves with ‘there’s plenty of ’em in Canada!’

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        that should read ‘uses it as additional support for delising and hunting’.

        Coastal First Nations, an alliance of aboriginal people on B.C.’s north and central coasts, has declared bear trophy hunting off-limits in their territories, but the provincial government does not recognize the ban.

        We still treat our native peoples so disrespectfully.

      2. SaveBears Avatar


        The purpose of the Endangered Species act is to ensure a wildlife species does not come to an end, it was never intended to make sure they inhabit where we want them to. Wolves were never actually endangered, they just did not inhabit areas they used to.

        It is sad that so many have actually prostituted the act and really made it a joke, which is why I believe it will either disappear or have a major overhaul in the future.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          I’m not sure I understand what you mean, SB. It would seem to me that pimping out our wildlife and natural resources to the highest bidder or anyone who can buy a hunting tag for short-term profit is more akin to what you mean.

          Wildlife is not a renewable resource, each animal is an individual. That’s why we don’t want to acknowledge that wolves, elephants, orcas, grizzlies, etc. have complex family and social structures not so different from ours, because if we did, then we’d have a harder time exploiting and killing them. Science is learning more and more about the complexity of non-human life all the time. What will we do when they are all gone?

          Yeah, I’m cynical, but not without hope – because you can’t watch government and corporations carry on the way they do repeatedly and not be.

  9. Jeff Martin Avatar
    Jeff Martin

    One question/observation I have is weather the wolves might just be helping the bears through the poor white bark pine pine production years by providing more big game kill carrion? Can the bears evolve quickly enough to use these alternative food sources to “save” themselves?

    1. ma'iingan Avatar

      Grizzlies have been usurping wolf kills since wolves first began repopulating the GYE landscape. No evolution necessary, but reductions in wolf numbers will certainly not benefit the bears.

  10. Gail Avatar

    Coincidentally, this was on Rick Merril’s blog today.
    Lengthy and a little complicated for the lay person but if you have time to scroll down to “conclusion” and “discussion” you might find this interesting. It expands on the link from WM above and I think Nancy’s link, too.


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