By Nicole Pollack
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — Wyoming’s grizzly bears — and the humans who manage them — have had a standout year. Conflicts, the official designation for confrontations between bears and people or their property, were the lowest the state has recorded since 2014.
And the six bears relocated in 2022 represent the least since the ‘90s, said Dan Thompson, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s large carnivore supervisor.
“It felt all summer, and into the fall, like a low-conflict year,” Thompson said.
But the agency was reluctant to declare the year a success too early, he added, “like it might jinx it.”
By year’s end, Game and Fish had counted just over 170 conflicts between grizzly bears and people, “which is a lot, but quite down from the average over the last decade,” he said. “It’s nice to have a year where the sky is not falling.”
The average number of known conflicts is about 215 per year, he said.
In 2021, the agency verified 281 conflicts; in 2020, it verified 208.
Game and Fish euthanized, or removed, 15 grizzlies in 2022, in response to persistent conflicts or other dangerous behaviors — down from an unusually high 30 in 2021 and 18 in both 2019 and 2020.
“The fact that we can have a year that was below average is promising for the future,” Thompson said.
This year’s death toll, however, included one of the quadruplets newly separated from famous grizzly matriarch 399. The subadult bear was killed in July after racking up 13 conflicts during its first (and only) two months alone.
As far as wildlife managers know, the rest of the quadruplets are still alive and staying out of trouble in the backcountry.
“We’ve not had any dealings with those offspring since they reached independence,” Thompson said.
And after several years marked by escalating and increasingly concerning conflicts, their mother is also keeping a low profile.
“We had one verified observation of her, early fall, north of Jackson,” Thompson said. “Her whereabouts are unknown. But it’s fairly typical behavior of her when she doesn’t have cubs, to kind of be off the grid more.”
Similarly, little is known about grizzly 863, the roadside bear known to her fans as Felicia, whose plight led to an outcry in the summer of 2021 after officials floated euthanasia as a last-ditch way to keep her away from a busy mountain pass in Grand Teton National Park.
“She was seen several times this summer, but she did not have that habituated roadside behavior as we’ve seen,” Thompson said.
The status of her two cubs is unknown.
A number of factors made 2022 a quiet year for Wyoming’s grizzlies. Food was plentiful, prompting fewer hungry bears to venture out of their core habitat in pursuit of human stores. Attractants like apiaries and livestock feed have been better secured every year, Thompson said; electric fencing is proving effective.
“I truly try to give credit where it’s due, to the people who live, work and recreate in grizzly bear country,” he said. “It’s important to note that the people that are there in grizzly bear country are a major reason why we have a recovered population as well.”
Thompson urged recreators to visit the state’s bear safety page, Bear Wise Wyoming, and contact Game and Fish directly with questions.
“We’re happy to talk about grizzly bears,” he said.
Officials are in the process of recalculating the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which hovers, by recent estimates, around 1,000. Thompson said it’s continued to trend upward, in abundance and distribution, “based on all metrics we have.”
The region’s grizzly bears remain a federally protected species — at least for now.
A response to Wyoming’s petition to remove the grizzly from the endangered species list, citing the population’s successful recovery, is expected from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January.
Game and Fish backs the effort. Many conservation groups have spoken out against it. As the state awaits a decision that could have huge implications for future management of grizzly bears, Thompson said Game and Fish is “cautiously optimistic for the next year.”