SUBLETTE COUNTY – For two years, wildlife agencies pleaded for people to back off Grizzly 399 and her four young cubs as they cavorted within full view of hundreds of travelers and photographers over Togwotee Pass and in Teton Park, who frequently stopped and created “bear jams” on Highway 26/287.
On Tuesday, July 12, Wyoming Game and Fish, with permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, shot and killed one of two male 2-year-olds that had left Grand Teton National Park and moved toward the Upper Green and for Bear mmmm, the Kendall Valley, with concerns for public safety.
“The bear's habituated behavior escalated after occupying the Kendall Valley area for nearly two months,” Game and Fish reported last week. “The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined, after over a month of work to secure attractants, that it was necessary to capture and remove Bear 1057 due to its very bold behavior, lack of fear towards humans and its constant pursuit of human food rewards.”
Bear 399 and these four cubs were “habituated” to people flocking around them and to obtaining food rewards, vastly increasing their chances of lethal conflicts, according to the FWS on April 6 and May 13.
In April, FWS, Teton Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest and Wyoming Game and Fish officials announced they were trying to “mitigate conflicts in bear country” as 399 and her four offspring emerged from hibernation.
“During the last two years, grizzly bear 399 and her cubs spent significant amount of time near residential areas and received numerous food rewards,” the release said. “… The community can make a difference in a bear’s life by doing its part to ensure bears never receive food rewards, whether you call the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem home or are just passing through.”
Local communities were asked to support the cubs’ continued survival by properly storing food, bird seed, feed and other items with a scent because “young bears have a higher potential to become increasingly emboldened in seeking out foods in and around human developments.”
The FWS’ Joe Szuszwalak reiterated: “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
“This bear is one of 399’s four cubs that were weaned this year,” confirmed Game and Fish large carnivore specialist Clint Atkinson. “Two of her male offspring dispersed to the Kendall Valley area from completely different paths. One came over Togwotee Pass and the other dispersed through the Gros Ventre River corridor. They were both collared but both dropped their collars soon after reaching Sublette County. Both bears gained access to birdseed, garbage, human foods, grass seed and pet/livestock feed. These behaviors stem from 399 teaching her cubs to pursue human food rewards last year.”
Szuszwalak pointed out that “when this food-conditioned behavior occurs, management options for the bear and human safety become limited.” Bottom line, management options are relocation or lethal take.
“The bear's habituated behavior escalated after occupying the Kendall Valley area for nearly two months,” Atkinson said, who worked with residents to reduce Bear 1057’s success at getting food rewards.
“One of the 2-year-olds left the Kendall Valley area as far as we know,” he said. “The other remained and exclusively pursued human food rewards. His behavior escalated recently leading to our decision to capture and euthanize the bear. We did trap him. We did not shoot him in the field nor did a resident (as some stated on social media).”
Atkinson said he spent “well over a month going door to door speaking with residents, handing out bear awareness fliers and urging folks to secure attractants. I hauled off some attractants myself and in other cases helped people secure attractants at their house. A Lot of work was done initially to secure attractants. The bear's behavior escalated to where he was exclusively pursuing human foods, behaving very boldly towards people, and frequenting multiple houses nightly.”
After that, Atkinson said, FWS and Game and Fish decided “it was necessary to capture and remove the bear due to its very bold behavior, lack of fear towards humans and its constant pursuit of human food rewards.”
In fact, it was reported this young bear was so used to people and so boldly tuned into food rewards that at least 13 incidents were reported since May in the Kendall Valley residential area.
One resident found Bear 1057 on his porch, unmoved by the person hitting him with the screen door and firing three warning rifle shots. The bear was trapped close to the homes and later euthanized.
While many people are not pleased with the young bear’s outcome, FWS and Game and Fish were very concerned for human safety “as this bear became more emboldened.”
The key is to prevent bears – grizzlies and black bears alike – from successfully raiding bird feeders, grain, grass seeds, human food and anything with a scent, Atkinson stressed.
Please help keep bears wild while keeping yourself and others safe, be bear aware. For more information on how you can reduce conflict with bears and other wildlife, visit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website: https://wgfd.wyo.gov/bear-wise-wyoming.