Grizzly 399 back in the southern valley, this time in peak summer


JACKSON — A beloved 25-year-old grizzly bear raising four cubs is once again outside her usual Grand Teton National Park home range and has been on the go through subdivisions and ranchland.

Grizzly 399, a bear that has attracted global adulation and fanfare, has made these movements before: In 2020, she spent most of November south of Highway 22, then returned to her normal haunts — and has stayed away since. But that was during the slowest time of year in Jackson Hole.

“We have concerns no matter what time of year,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokesman Mark Gocke told the Jackson Hole Daily. “But definitely, with the number of people who are visiting here right now, it elevates that level of concern.”

Grizzly 399 and her four cubs generally stayed out of trouble during her 2020 monthlong sojourn in the southern valley, though there were exceptions. The highly habituated sow, which has spent the last 15 years living amid thousands of park visitors, successfully exploited human-related foods on several occasions. She wiped out a beekeeper’s colony, got into livestock feed and fed for hours on pelleted, enriched molasses that had been spread out for wildlife in a Solitude Subdivision backyard.

The saying, “A fed bear is a dead bear,” has merit: Oftentimes food-motivated bruins are unable to break bad habits, such as raiding food in residential areas, once they learn the behavior.

But Grizzly 399 was an exception, at least initially. She successfully resumed her life as a wild bear, feeding on hunter-killed elk last winter and then elk calves this past spring. But already, her time outside the park is off to a rough start.

“Unfortunately, they got into some livestock feed yesterday,” Game and Fish bear biologist Mike Boyce said Wednesday.

Once word spread that Grizzly 399 was again south of the national park Tuesday, her faithful fan club began spreading word online, attempting to educate the tens of thousands of tourists and seasonal residents who are in Jackson Hole on any given day.

Savannah Burgess, a local wildlife photographer, urged people to remove their birdseed and hummingbird feeders, keep their garbage and pet food inside, and to protect other ursine edibles like chicken coops, beehives and compost piles. Teton County’s zoning code requires bear-proof garbage cans and mandates that birdfeeders be hung out of reach of bears.

Grizzly 399 and her four 1-year-old cubs were reported by the Aspens and by anglers floating the Snake River on Tuesday. Although the rumor mill was in overdrive about the grizzly family’s whereabouts Wednesday, the five bears were notably less visible, biologist Boyce said.

“It’s been really quiet,” he said Wednesday. “I haven’t been able to confirm anything today.”

For now, grizzly managers and those who follow the celebrity bears most closely are hoping for the best.

“Any road crossing with five bears is going to be fairly risky, especially with this many people,” Burgess said. “That’s definitely a major concern.”

Longtime Grizzly 399 advocate Ann Smith has been “fretting and worried” following the latest saga.

“It’s like my child has run away from home,” Smith said. “I’m disturbed that she got in livestock feed, but you can’t blame her. It’s like a buffet, and she’s just walking by.”