JACKSON – It’s well known that grizzly bears that grow up roadside in Grand Teton National Park tend to habituate to being around people.
Anyone who has been present at a “bear jam” in the park can see that behavioral trait is developed out of necessity — people, sometimes by the hundreds, are often lining the roads watching and photographing the bruins.
But the intelligent large carnivore’s adaptive response to the sights, sounds and smells of humanity doesn’t always translate well to life outside the park. A case in point: The plight of a 2-year-old male grizzly subadult, which found itself in trouble last week, within days of being run off by its mother.
“He was basically wandering neighborhoods during daylight hours showing zero wariness of people while going from house to house looking for stuff to eat,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department bear biologist Mike Boyce told the Jackson Hole Daily. “The habituated behavior, it works pretty well in the park, but when those bears leave the park and wander into developed areas it is problematic.”
Upcoming genetic testing will confirm the young grizzly’s lineage, but Boyce said the animal is “likely” one of the cubs of Grizzly 610. If so, the cub is descended from Grizzly 399, mother of Grizzly 610. A roadside phenom, Grizzly 399 has cultivated a global following over her 25 years in the wild, mostly in Grand Teton National Park.
The subdivisions south of Grand Teton are where her offspring ultimately landed in a trap last week after getting off to a rough start without his mom, Grizzly 610, by his side. The young male’s concerning behavior escalated “very quickly,” Boyce said. He was showing no fear of people near the Menors Ferry area in Moose, along roads and near buildings in a privately owned inholding within the park.
“The Park Service and myself hazed that bear pretty aggressively on three occasions in a 24-hour period,” Boyce said.
Not everyone agrees with how forcefully biologists and rangers went after the bold cub. Wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, whose images have helped bring Teton park grizzlies global adulation, worries that it was the hazing operations that triggered 610’s two cubs to split from each other and then the male subadult to flee south.
“In my opinion, they’re not dealing with it well,” Mangelsen said. “Those little bears, they weren’t charging anybody, and they don’t need to be hazed.”
Regardless of what caused its movement south, once in the neighborhoods beyond the park the young male bruin was learning destructive habits that don’t bode well for its future. While passing through the Solitude Subdivision, the 2-year-old grizzly approached the house of Dean Bosacki and peered into his kitchen window while he was eating breakfast.
The impressionable young grizzly entered an open garage, Boyce said, and on at least three occasions fed on birdseed.
“People need to do a better job of securing their bear attractants,” he said. “It seems like people think that bird feeders are benign, but it’s a significant attractant for bears. It leads to human conditioning and ultimately can lead to their demise.”
After the repeated encounters with people and bird feeders, Boyce trapped the young male in a subdivision south of Grand Teton and then released the young bear well to the north, in the Sheffield Creek area just before Yellowstone National Park’s southern entrance.
When Boyce spoke to the Daily over the weekend, he hadn’t yet checked in on the subadult grizzly since it was relocated to see if it had stayed put. But the animal does now have a very high frequency-style tracking collar, so its whereabouts will be knowable going forward.
“I hope it stays up in the area where we relocated it,” Boyce said. “We’ve had pretty good success relocating young bears. They don’t have the homing instincts that adult bears have.”