The final stats have been compiled on Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears for 2020 and with a few notable exceptions, it was a normal year.
The annual report of Grizzly Bear Management Captures, Relocations, and Removals was recently completed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and a tally was also provided by the Idaho Fish and Game Upper Snake River Regional office. Biologists keep track of such things as bear conflicts with people and livestock and relocations. Because grizzly bears are federally protected, state officials operate under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jeremy Nicholson, the region’s bear man, spent much of 2020 trapping and radio-collaring female grizzly bears in the Island Park area and Centennial Range as part of an ongoing study. His general assessment of 2020 for human-grizzly relations was good with a few exceptions.
Three notable conflicts did arise in eastern Idaho. Two grizzly attacks were reported, one in the Henrys Lake State Park area and another against two hunters near the Montana-Idaho border, and a sow and cub that were raiding trash cans in Island Park were captured and moved to the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.
“It was a pretty normal year, except for the attacks,” Nicholson said. “We haven’t had an attack in a few years, so the fact that we had two in a year was kind of different for us. That’s the highest form of conflict that we deal with.”
Across the border, the northwest area of Wyoming responded to 200 grizzly conflicts. Game and Fish captured 26 different grizzly bears to resolve the situations. Most of the bears were males.
“In Wyoming, grizzly bear conflicts are defined as interactions between grizzly bears, people and their property, resulting in damage to pets, livestock or bees, non-natural food rewards, animal caused human injury or death, and human caused injury or death to an animal other than legal hunting or a management action,” according to Brian DeBolt, large carnivore conflict coordinator with Game and Fish. “In comparison to some previous years, we had relatively low conflict in suitable habitat for bears.”
With a larger region and more grizzly bears to manage, Wyoming relocated nine grizzly bears onto Forest Service land. Another 18 bears were euthanized for repeated nuisance behavior or repeated attacks on livestock.
Nicholson said it’s a constant effort to educate people who live in bear country in order to reduce conflicts and save the lives of bears. He said the population of people and bears has grown over the past 20 years in eastern Idaho, and with that so has conflicts. Fish and Game has an aggressive program of educating people to avoid food rewards for hungry bears.
“A lot of people in Island Park that we deal with are not long-term people, they come and go,” he said. “There’s a lot of rental properties. We have a population of 250 permanent residents and thousands of people in the summertime. That’s one of our biggest challenges is getting the word out continuously because every three days a new group of people come in to certain areas.”
Besides being attracted by garbage and bird feeders, Nicholson said bears often roam when local natural food sources dry up.
“Bad food years we’ll definitely see an uptick in the number of conflicts,” he said. “But if we we’re not out there doing outreach and education and stuff, then we’d definitely have more conflicts.”