By Billy Arnold
Jackson Hole Daily
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — Hilary Cooley is worried about the season ahead for Grizzly 399 and her cubs, who have yet to emerge from hibernation.
“The future’s not so bright for these guys,” she said during a meeting of state and federal wildlife and land managers Wednesday in Jackson. “They’ve been in a lot of trouble.”
Cooley is the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who was called into Jackson Hole last fall to manage 399’s foray into the southern reaches of the valley. In a separate Wednesday evening press conference largely focused on the famous 399 and her brood, she and other officials urged Teton County residents to do their part to protect them and other bears: Securing attractants like livestock feed, compost and beehives, and storing garbage inside and in bear-resistant trash cans if it’s outside.
All of that is likely to be required by Teton County if the Teton County Board of County Commissioners passes an update to land development regulations Tuesday aimed at reducing human-wildlife conflicts. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has supported those regulations throughout the process.
But the new code likely won’t go into effect until July 1, after 399, her cubs and other grizzlies emerge from their dens.
In that light, wildlife officials are urging individual action to prevent conflict and avoid more drastic management actions.
“It’s not just agencies that can do things,” Cooley said. “It’s probably more important that the public take action, secure their attractants.”
But, if preventative measures fail and 399 or her cubs get into human-related foods, management options like hazing, relocation, euthanasia and sending bears to zoos are being considered.
“All options are on the table,” said Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish’s large carnivore supervisor.
Cooley confirmed that applies to both 399 and the cubs, though she admitted officials have been “more lenient” for the celebrated sow.
“I think we’ll continue to do that,” Cooley said in a follow-up talk with the Jackson Hole Daily. “But that doesn’t mean she gets a free pass.”
Grizzly bear photographer and advocate Tom Mangelsen said any of those actions “would be incredibly over-reactive and sad.
“Most of this is preventable,” he said. “I think they should be just very careful with her and not overreact.
“And I think people need to be very aware and secure their garbage and electrify their fences,” Mangelsen added.
In the past two years, 399 and her offspring have accessed livestock feed, garbage and beehives. Conflicts have increased from five in 2020 to 17 in 2021, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Human-related food sources can be deadly for grizzlies and other bears. After getting food rewards, bears can get used to accessing that food source — and aggressive in trying to reach it, potentially posing a danger to humans they encounter. When that happens, wildlife managers often consider relocating or removing bears, either by euthanasia or live placement.
Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service gave Game and Fish the go-ahead to put down five grizzlies in Teton County that had been relocated after getting into human-related foods and returning to similar sources. Grizzly 399 and her cubs avoided that fate. But their history has wildlife managers concerned, and expecting more conflicts.
Last year, two of 399’s cubs were collared and the Fish and Wildlife Service spent $60,000 managing 399’s trip through Jackson Hole, which included a jaunt through downtown Jackson.
At one point, federal wildlife officials tailed the ursine family as they traveled.
This year, the celebrity sow is expected to kick off her cubs shortly after emerging from their den, meaning the five bears should be acting independently.
Because of the collaring last year, officials know that two of 399’s offspring are males. They don’t know the sex of the other two. But they anticipate that the males will leave Grand Teton National Park, steering clear of older, dominant male grizzlies’ home ranges.
And officials anticipate conflicts.
“We’re probably going to have to deal with at least one of the cubs in some shape or form,” Cooley said.
Cooley and Grand Teton National Park’s bear management specialist, Justin Schwabedissen, were cautiously optimistic that 399 herself would default to her past offspring-free behavior and stay in the park, away from people. But if 399 or her cubs do get into conflicts this year, officials said the more serious management actions are possible.
That, Cooley and others said, is why it’s so important that individual people secure garbage, livestock feed and other attractants.
Cooley also cautioned that wildlife managers haven’t made decisions, yet, about how they’re going to manage the bears.
Rather, they’re just talking about options — and trying to communicate them to the public.
Managing the bears will also look slightly different this year.
Thompson said Game and Fish ceded responsibility for tailing 399 to the Fish and Wildlife Service partly out of concern for its staff.
“They still need to live here and work in the valley,” Thompson said. “We worried about them and their future with some of the people’s feelings towards these particular bears.”
This year Thompson and Cooley said responsibility for 399 and her cubs will generally fall back to Game and Fish when they’re outside of Grand Teton.
The feds, however, could be called in. The Fish and Wildlife Service is hiring five new conflict-focused staffers, Cooley said.
One will be based in Jackson, Cooley said, but not on “399 detail.”
“These bears have a tough year ahead of them,” she said. “And we’re asking for the public’s help.”