2014 was excellent year for grizzly bears

Doom and gloom hardly justified this year-

Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone (GYE) and the Northern Continental Divide ecosystems (NCDE) had a very good year in 2014 when we consider bear mortality.

In the GYE there were only 25 confirmed dead grizzlies. In 2013 there were 29 and in 2012 there were 59!  In the three years before that there were 44,  50, and 31 dead bears respectively.

In northwest central Montana in the NCDE, grizzly mortality was low. Eighteen grizzlies died or were killed in the NCDE. In both ecosystems the number of reported bear conflicts was down.

A new statistical model for estimating GYE grizzlies spit out a new larger estimate of 1000 bears. The old method gave about 750 bears. An equal number are estimated to live in the NCDE.

Conditions in the GYE and NCDE during 2014 produced good amounts of grizzly food, and the bears do seem to always be learning to exploit new sources of food, although new sources can sometimes have an angry person with a gun nearby. We must always point out that two of the GYE’s great food sources from the past — cutthroat trout and whitebark pine nuts have largely collapsed. There is hope the cutthroat populations can be rebuilt. There has been growing success getting the invasive lake trout populations under control. Lake trout eat cutthroat.

As far as grizzly “sore spots” (with people) go, those that lie deep inside the two big grizzly bear recovery areas have produced a declining number of deaths. Most of the places that continually produce dead bears are near the edges. In the GYE, the upper Green River in Wyoming has been a big mortality sink for grizzlies year after year. It is on the edge of the grizzly recovery zone and filled with cattle.

In Montana up near the Canadian border the grizzlies keep ranging farther and farther out from the Rocky Mountain Front into the lightly populated high plains. There is considerable food here for them there, and a low, though hardly negligible, human population. Here is a 2013 article about grizzlies that are now even hibernating well out on the high plains. Grizzly bears dig the prairie: Winter dens discovered far east of mountains. In the GYE too, grizzlies are slowly expanding out of the mountains into the foothills and high desert.

There is an immense amount of worry about grizzlies as they get near to livestock, subdivisions or other concentrations of people. If we track the fate of other large carnivores in the United States today, especially cougar and wolves, it might be time to revise this fear, at least to make it more specific. Cougar exist in and around many of the largest urban areas of the Western United States. If there are somewhat connected patches of “rough” country such as thickets, or rocky areas to which they can retreat, and if there are deer, cougar can make a living and stay out of sight. There are news stories about it all the time.

Bears are more conspicuous. They need more space, but they don’t need wilderness. If people have the least forgiving attitude, and many do, bears don’t cause much trouble. With wolves it is all about human attitude, with wolf packs doing quite well near to rural subdivisions. Wolves just need deer and people who don’t believe in fairy tales and old fables.

Of the three carnivores, wolves are the least direct threat to humans by far. One can argue they are pretty much no threat at all. Wolves have killed no one in the lower 48 states since there were reintroduced twenty years ago, and their population grew. They have not even attacked anyone. There are not many middle sized to large animals we can say that about.

The successful growth of the grizzly bear populations has put them in the brink of declassification from the threatened species list. There is a lot of worry about that, and the end result will depend of people’s attitudes, not resource conflicts. The competition for resources should be trivial to the human point of view. We know that to some folks no competition is ever tolerated.





  1. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Excellent writing with lots of positive aspects. Bear deaths are down as organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife and Greater Yellowstone Coalition provide bear proof food containers within the NPs, install bear poles for hunters to keep their fresh kills from bears, provide electric fencing when conflicts arise adjacent to homes and MFWP educates the public on how to prevent food habituation conflicts with the great bears.

    I read where Yellowstone cutthroat trout were not a big food source (except for the bears where their home range is near Yellowstone Lake).

    The next big accomplishment is to provide the connectivity from Yellowstone to NCDE and organizations such as The Vital Ground Foundation is working to do just that.

    I’ve met a few grizzlies hiking in Montana that forever changed my life for the good.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Awwwww….yes, good news! 🙂

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Thanks Gary,

      I think meeting a grizzly is generally a positive experience. Commonly there is no attack, but it is a chance for you to test both your skill and your courage . . . and a memory to keep.

      I won’t say anything about the first two regarding myself, but I am glad to have four such memories.

    3. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      Gary Humbard:
      You wrote, “The next big accomplishment is to provide the connectivity from Yellowstone to NCDE and organizations such as The Vital Ground Foundation is working to do just that.”

      I agree that connecting the grizzly bear regions together is key, HOWEVER, that will not happen if the grizzly is Delisted before then. Once Delisting from the Endangered Species Act happens, the next immediate step will be grizzly bear hunting approved by Montana and Idaho — and that’s the end of any “connectivity”.

      I am surprised Ralph Maughan did not bring this up in his article.

      1. Elk375 Avatar

        Why does grizzly hunting end connectivity?

        1. Ed Loosli Avatar
          Ed Loosli

          Hunting will end grizzly connectivity possibilities because the hunters will kill the grizzlies when they try and leave the recovery zones.

          1. Elk375 Avatar

            The barrier to grizzly connectivity is Interstate 15 and Interstate 90, airports, secondary roads, real estate development and lack of food in certain areas.

            Any grizzly hunting will be highly regulated. All hunting will be in a designated area with licenses issued by lottery with seasons adjusted to target large males.

            1. Ed Loosli Avatar
              Ed Loosli

              Better to be “save than sorry” – the Precautionary Principle… Only Delist and consider hunting the grizzly bear once connectivity is fully achieved.

            2. skyrim Avatar

              “target large males”……
              I’ll never figure that out.
              Take out the biggest and best from the gene pool. Trophy Elk hunting is no different.

              1. Jeff Avatar

                I’m a meat hunter, but taking out old males is the best portion of a population to trim. Their size and age already assure there genes are well represented in the local gene pool and they are occupying space and territory that could be filled by younger bulls, bucks or boars that are climbing the social ladder of their local population. Older females beyond their reproductive years are also a desired animal to remove, their identification is more difficult however.

            3. Nancy Avatar

              “Any grizzly hunting will be highly regulated. All hunting will be in a designated area with licenses issued by lottery with seasons adjusted to target large males”

              Neat & tidy, regs in place before grizzlies are even delisted, so not a stretch Elk, given your past posts, big game hunters can’t wait and are probably salivating over the prospect of “bagging a Grizzly?”

              Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. larry thorngren Avatar

    I have found that even seeing a fresh grizzly track while hiking makes me hear better, see better and jump higher.

  3. Kayla Avatar

    Go Grizzlies! This is such Great News! Personally I have thought for sometime that the population of the Grizzly back in the Yellowstone Wilds was more then what was said in public because of all the evidence, (tracks and scat), I came across during my summer wilderness wanderings.

    Now thru years of wandering in the Greater Yellowstone Wilds and after how many close Grizzly Bear Encounters, I have come to trust in the Grizzly Bear then in most people. One reason is that I have NEVER been stabbed in the back from a Grizzly Bear. But how many times have I been stabbed in the back by some person I know for the slightest of reasons. I have camped in Grizzly Country for years and have had many close encounters with grizzlies, including Sows with cubs, and have yet to have one bad encounter. In many ways the bears are just as wanting to avoid us as we want to avoid them. In many ways can the Bears can be a Master Teacher when it comes to Wilderness and living in Wilderness if we let them be, rather living in fear of them. One thing that they ask is for us to respect them and give them the space they they desire to just live their own lives in peace.

    Again Such Great News! Gooooo Grizzlies!!!

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Knew you would be weighing in on the subject Kayla 🙂 Any thoughts on getting a book together about your backcountry adventures?

      1. skyrim Avatar

        Ya, What Nancy says! I thought you were working on something?


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