Sep 23, 2015

Game and Fish busy relocating northwest Wyoming grizzlies

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is relocating grizzly bears regularly in this northwestern part of the state.

As of Sept. 16, Game and Fish captured and relocated more than 20 grizzly bears throughout northwest Wyoming so far this year, said Dan Thompson, Game and Fish statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section in Lander.

In 2014, a total of 16 northwest Wyoming grizzlies were relocated, Thompson said.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is relocating grizzly bears on a fairly regular basis. Photographer Neale Blank snapped this bruin in May near Yellowstone National Park's Steamboat Point. Photo courtesy Neale Blank

Recent relocations include an adult female grizzly bear that was captured for killing livestock on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment west of Dubois last Wednesday. The bear was relocated to the Five Mile Creek drainage.

On Sept. 11, the Game and Fish captured and relocated an adult female grizzly with a cub for killing livestock on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment approximately 30 miles north/northwest of Pinedale. The bears were relocated in currently occupied grizzly bear habitat in the Clarks Fork River drainage, approximately 25 miles northwest of Cody.

Also Sept. 11, Game and Fish captured an adult male grizzly that was frequenting residential areas near Jackson. The bear was relocated in currently occupied grizzly bear habitat to the Five Mile Creek drainage, approximately 5 miles east of the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park, west of Cody.

“They’re playing bear roulette,” said grizzly advocate Chuck Neal of Cody.

Grizzly bear relocation is a management tool to minimize human-bear conflicts. The decision to relocate a bear and the site selection take into consideration the bear’s age, its sex and the type of conflict it was involved in, according to a statement from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department each time a bear was relocated.

Since grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the department consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the appropriate land management agency. Relocations are in accordance with federal laws and regulations, the statement said. When selecting a relocation site, Game and Fish makes every consideration to minimize potential conflicts with people and to maximize the likelihood of the bear’s survival, the department said.

The number and location of human-bear conflicts is influenced by the availability of unsecured attractants, natural food availability and abundance of bears and their distribution in relation to human use on the landscape, Thompson said.

Attractants include human food, horse feed, bird seed, etc., according to Game and Fish.

Bears can create conflicts after they have obtained food rewards. The department continues to stress the importance of keeping all attractants unavailable to bears. Reducing attractants reduces human-bear conflicts.

Livestock could be considered an attractant.

Buster Tolman, a Bennet Creek Ranch owner in Clark has lost cattle to grizzlies. Grizzlies will hunt elk, but elk can leave and livestock are easier to kill.  

Because they are legally hunted, black bears fear humans more and are less likely to kill stock, Tolman said.

“That’s the solution: to have a season on them (grizzlies),” he said.

The federal government owns grizzlies, but state government agencies, such as the Game and Fish Department, must manage grizzlies and pay ranchers for depredations, Tolman said.

“It shouldn’t be that way,” he said.

Perhaps the federal government should pay for livestock losses, Tolman said. Then taxpayers might get fed up paying taxes to cover livestock losses and pressure politicians to delist the animal.

“In the meantime, we have to suffer and pay the price,” Tolman said.

Neal opposes delisting.

The population must have the opportunity to expand, he said.  Relocating and keeping grizzlies confined to “currently occupied grizzly bear habitat” lacks vision, Neal said.

Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzlies are an island population. That is, they have no links with species in other parts of the West, which could be detrimental to a robust genetic pool. Grizzlies must be allowed to expand into places like central Idaho — the largest roadless area in the lower 48 states, Neal said. From there, grizzlies can connect with bears in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in western Montana.

There are hundreds of thousands of acres of quality habitat in Wyoming for grizzly expansion, such as the Wyoming and Wind River ranges where whitebark pine has not been so ravaged by pine beetles, Neal said.

A white bark pine cone. Photo courtesy Richard Sniezko, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
“They (grizzlies) can make it there easily if we just let them do it,” he said.

Whitebark pine nuts, extracted from the cones, are an important nutrition source for grizzlies and other wildlife such as squirrels and the Clark’s nutcracker.

Whitebark pine surveys on established transects — sample strips of land used to monitor the trees — indicated generally above-average cone production in 2014, according to an Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team report. Across some 21 transects, the average number of cones per tree was 20.

However, among some 190 trees that the team has monitored in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since 2002, fewer than 50 are still alive, the report says.

Are grizzlies outgrowing their designated habitat?

There are an estimated 757 total grizzlies in the GYE this year — the same as last year, Thompson said at a May meeting for the team’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meeting in Cody.

Monitoring and data suggest the population is showing density-dependent effects indicating the grizzly population is at or above carrying capacity, Thompson said.

“What we have documented in the last decade as the densities have increased is lower survival in dependent young. The lower survival was more related to density dependence/carrying capacity effects than other factors,” says the Game and Fish's Dan Thompson.

The average number in a litter declined slightly in 2014 to a mean of 1.92 cubs, according to the team’s numbers crunched since 1983. The highest was 2.4 in 1992 and the lowest 1.69 in 1983.

The average litter is about two cubs, Thompson said. He has seen as many as four, but not very often.

“What we have documented in the last decade as the densities have increased is lower survival in dependent young. The lower survival was more related to density dependence/carrying capacity effects than other factors,” he said.

“Game and Fish relocates grizzly bears as part of routine management operations,” Thompson said. Public safety is always of utmost importance, which is the reason the department responds immediately to human-bear and other large carnivore conflicts.

The public and federal and state grizzly bear managers have worked for decades to recover grizzly bears in Wyoming and in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. He thanked the public for all of their efforts and sacrifices to recover grizzly bears and for their patience and timely communication to report conflicts immediately so they can respond, Thompson said.


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