Feb 12, 2015

Grizzly emerges from den in warm winter weather

The mild winter has people doing things they usually don’t in February. At least one grizzly bear is also more active than normal.

Yellowstone National Park employees observed a grizzly out and about on Tuesday. The bruin was seen scavenging on a bison carcass in the central portion of the park late in the afternoon, according to a park news release.

Still, a few bears spotted in February do not necessarily signal scores of bears departing their winter dens.

A grizzly bear is pictured near Canyon in Yellowstone National Park in November. At least one is out and about in Yellowstone now. Photo courtesy Neal Herbert, National Park Service

“There's usually a few bears that may poke out their heads, and the warm weather has everyone expecting a mass exodus,” Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore section supervisor, said Wednesday.

“Typically, male bears emerge from their dens in mid-March and early April, while females and young-of-the-year cubs emerge in late April and early May,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Large Carnivore Conflict Coordinator Brian DeBolt said last year.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important food source, and bears sometimes will react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

Yellowstone also implements seasonal bear management area closures to reduce encounters between bears and humans in areas where elk and bison carcasses are in high density. A listing of these closures can be found online.

Yellowstone regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times.

With bears emerging from hibernation, hikers, skiers and snowshoers are advised to travel in groups of three of more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray. Bear spray has proven to be a good last line of defense, if kept handy and used according to directions when a bear is approaching within 30 to 60 feet. The same advice applies for those taking guided snowmobile trips in Yellowstone.

“There's usually a few bears that may poke out their heads, and the warm weather has everyone expecting a mass exodus,” said the Game and Fish's Dan Thompson.

While guns are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm is a violation of park regulations.

The park’s law enforcement rangers who carry firearms on duty rely on bear spray, rather than their weapons, as the most effective means to deal with a bear encounter.

Visitors are also reminded to keep food, garbage, barbecue grills and other attractants stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes. This helps keep bears from becoming conditioned to human foods and keeps park visitors and their property safe.

Updated bear safety information is available on the Park Service website and in the park newspaper distributed at park entrances.

Yellowstone bear sightings should be reported to the nearest visitor center or ranger station as soon as possible.

Outside the park, Game and Fish continues to monitor any reports of bear sightings. When bears wearing radio collars begin moving, it's a primary indicator that bears are really coming out, the department says.

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