Grizzly 399, cubs emerge from den


JACKSON — She is risen.

The day before Easter, Grizzly 399 and her four cubs emerged from the den. On Saturday afternoon, the bear family promenaded down along Pilgrim Creek, made it across the highway to Willow Flats, and forded the Snake River before continuing south as they showed themselves to the public for the first time this spring.

While onlookers reported about 15 to 20 cars in the Pilgrim Creek area when the famous fivesome first emerged, a full entourage of roughly 100 vehicles quickly assembled to tag along for the bears’ stroll.

On Sunday, a smaller group reassembled, following 399’s trail and scrambling to get eyes on her as she emerged near Signal Mountain Lodge.

“They all look pretty healthy,” said Joe Stone, a wildlife photographer who watched 399 and her cubs swim across the Snake River as snow fell Saturday afternoon.

“It was a bit of a relief to see them all out,” he said. “They were running around, stretching their limbs.”

Having successfully raised her cubs along the roadsides of Grand Teton National Park since 2007, Grizzly 399 is one of the most well-known animals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, if not the most well known.

At 26, she is also relatively old for a grizzly. Bear watchers wondered what condition she and her cubs would be in when they emerged this spring. Some wondered whether 399 would emerge at all.

“I was starting to worry about her,” said Tom Mangelsen, a Jackson Hole wildlife photographer who has followed 399 around the valley for years.

When 399 did emerge, Mangelsen was mollified.

“All five of them look very healthy,” he said.

Grizzly 399’s cubs are now approximately two years old, and wildlife managers expect they will separate from their mother sometime this season.

When that happens, if not before, wildlife managers are concerned about what will happen.

For the past two years, 399 has led her cubs into the valley’s developed southern reaches where they have gotten into livestock feed, garbage and beehives: human-related food sources that can be deadly for grizzlies and other bears.

After receiving food rewards, bears can get used to accessing that food source and become aggressive in trying to reach it, potentially posing a danger to humans. When that happens, wildlife managers consider hazing, relocating or removing bears, either by euthanasia or live placement.

All of those options are on the table for dealing with 399 and her cubs, wildlife managers have said.

To prevent any of those interventions, wildlife officials are putting the onus on people.

They’re asking residents to store garbage in bear-resistant containers; secure livestock feed, pet food, compost and beehives; and hang bird feeders to make them inaccessible to bears.

Teton County will require all of that as part of a recently approved update to its land development regulations. But that update won’t go into effect until July 1. Compliance in the meantime is voluntary but encouraged by local, state and federal wildlife officials.

“We want people to be able to see bears in their natural habitat,” Wyoming Game and Fish Large Carnivore Supervisor Dan Thompson said at an early April press conference. “And with that comes great responsibility, I think. If that gets abused, things can go awry extremely quickly.”

For now, Mangelsen said the path 399 and her cubs are on is fairly “typical.”

He isn’t anticipating her going south of Jackson Hole Airport anytime soon, although he didn’t rule it out for this summer.

“I don’t think there’s any indication that she would head ‘south of town’ at this point,” he said.

But if 399 does head farther south this season, she could once again enter developed areas where she has encountered human foods in the past. There is concern that the young bears have learned that behavior from their mother.

Hilary Cooley, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who was called out to Jackson last fall to manage 399’s time in developed areas, expects conflicts will arise.

“We’re probably going to have to deal with at least one of the cubs in some shape or form,” Cooley previously told the Jackson Hole Daily.

All of that has onlookers like wildlife photographers Tiffany Taxis and Joe Stone concerned about what’s to come.

“I’m more worried about people than I am anything else,” Stone told the Daily. “I’m just hoping our community can do the right thing.”

But, in the meantime, crowds are gathering in Grand Teton National Park to watch 399 as she moves through her traditional home range.

Park officials were not able to respond to a request for comment before press time Sunday because they were in the field managing bear traffic.

But bear watchers were having a ball, albeit in smaller numbers than Saturday.

Jill Hall is among fans keeping an eye on the mother griz. When she spoke with the Daily around 11:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday, Hall said she was headed to church. If it wasn’t for the holiday, she would have had other plans involving 399.

“I’d be up there by now,” she said.

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