WYOMING – The 2017 Wyoming hunting season has seen a high number of grizzly bear/human encounters. According to Wyoming Game and Fish Department data, these numbers are not out of range of past events. However, continuing to reduce conflict is a priority for Game and Fish and can be done efficiently with grizzly bears under state management.
There have been at least 13 bear-human conflicts this fall, with some resulting in humans being injured and others where bears were killed. There were seven grizzly bears shot and four people injured. All of the bear mortalities will be factored into future grizzly bear management decisions.
“We at Game and Fish believe strongly in being very upfront with the public about what is happening with their wildlife. Now that we’ve taken over management, we want to talk more about issues involving grizzly bears. Unfortunately, this sometimes involves tragic conflicts where people are injured or bears are killed,” Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for Game and Fish, said.
Though the number of conflicts in 2017 is higher than some previous years for conflicts between humans and bears where there was a human injury, fatality or a bear was killed, Game and Fish has seen cycles of spikes and drops in past years. For instance, in 2010 there were at least 16 conflicts with 5 people injured, 1 person killed and 10 bears killed involving similar situations.
“Increased conflicts between bears and humans is a reality of a thriving and recovered grizzly bear population. There are more bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area now than there have been in many decades. In 2017 all of the incidents were inside the area that is deemed suitable for grizzly bears, also known as the demographic monitoring area. So while Game and Fish has seen grizzly bear population expansion into new areas, that doesn’t appear to be a contributor to the increased human conflicts this year,” Nesvik said. “Some wildlife managers suspect that early fall heavy snows in the higher elevations may have been a factor this year, but often times it is difficult to pin down specific causes for the peaks and valleys in grizzly bear conflicts.”
All of the recent grizzly bear conflicts have occurred within the state’s Demographic Monitoring Area. The population estimate inside the Demographic Monitoring Area is estimated conservatively at 690 bears. There is likely 10 percent more bears outside that Demographic Monitoring Area. Of the three states in the Greater Yellowstone Area, Wyoming has the largest share of the bear population.
Grizzly bears are currently under state management and have been since July following a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) were sufficiently recovered. The State of Wyoming has spent well over $45 million on grizzly bear recovery and management while the species has been on the endangered species list. Game and Fish has been leading monitoring and management of bears, but always did so with the approval of the federal government. Now, with Game and Fish at the helm of management decisions, conflicts are handled quicker.
“We are now able to get these types of investigations in front of local county attorneys quicker. In the past, these investigations were often held up in the federal system for several months, even when no charges were filed. Now, local prosecutors have the ability to make decisions on whether a crime was committed when a grizzly bear is killed,” Nesvik said.
While recreating in bear country, Game and Fish continues to recommend being bear aware and practicing bear safety. Recommendations for bear safety are available on the Game and Fish website.
Game and Fish is hosting a series of scoping meetings for the public to have conversations about grizzly bear management and research. Meetings are currently being held statewide. Full details on the meetings are listed on the Game and Fish website.