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How Many Grizzly Attacks Is Enough?

One of the most interesting and controversial topics we face as conservationists is the management of the grizzly bear. Unfortunately for us, grizzly bear management is 100% political. The lawsuits based on the emotions of environmental groups resulting in federal judges striking down management plans based on facts and numbers has grown increasingly frustrating. Hunting seasons were in place for fall of 2018 after management plans were approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These were blocked by Missoula Federal Judge, Dana Christensen. Later that year multiple bear attacks occurred, one resulting in the death of Mark Uptain near Jackson, Wyoming. Since then, attacks and near fatal maulings have increased, yet the opposition claims there aren’t enough bears, like the 50,000 like Lewis and Clark conservatively suggested and/or that the populations are not continuous up and down the historic range. 

Grizzly bear encounters are on the rise and bears are showing up in places that they haven’t been seen in before. So far the spring of 2020 has been no different. There have been four grizzly bear attacks in Wyoming and Montana. Luckily, none have been fatal. Encountering a grizzly bear in the woods was once considered rare but now it has turned into a common occurrence in core grizzly bear habitat. But the bears are venturing beyond their “core habitat” and paying the price for it. 

In 2018 alone, a sow and two cubs were caught and euthanized near Byron, Wyoming which is described as “way outside” the core grizzly bear habitat area by Game and Fish Regional Wildlife Supervisor Dan Smith. This is one of the many examples of grizzly bear incidents from 2018, which saw 64 documented grizzly bear deaths in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 45 of those fatalities were “problem bears” which were euthanized. The same year, at least 51 grizzly deaths resulted in the Northern Rockies Ecosystem. Fatalities were from a combination of vehicle collisions, euthanizations, and documented deaths of natural causes. My point? That’s a lot of bears! 

Grizzlies have been federally protected since 1975 under the Endangered Species Act. In 2017, the grizzly was removed from the endangered species list and then Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke declared that the population had “rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today and meets all the criteria for delisting.” 700 is a minimum estimate for the immediate Yellowstone area but the grizzly’s range is a far larger expanse than that. 

This is very interesting to me and left me scratching my head on how many bears there really are out West since the actual number is not known and backed by hard facts as grizzly bears are probably the hardest animal to get an accurate count on due to the nature of their habits and the fact they are solitary.

The DNA study area where the federal government claims there is at least 765 individual grizzly bears in 2008.

Back in 2002, the USGS received funding for a project called the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project. The study would encompass 7.6 million acres of known grizzly bear habitat ranging from the Canadian border south to Highway 200 within Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and plenty of private land with the cooperation of landowners in the immediate area. Keep in mind the study area was a broad swath of land of which 50% is roadless. 

In 2003 and 2004 the plan was to set hair traps on rub trees. A total of 55 crew members in 2003 and 190 in 2004 were hired to spread out in this area and place hair traps (barbed wire) on rub trees throughout this giant study area to collect hair from as many bears as possible. Samples were collected with tweezers after the barbed wire was out for two weeks. This hair was to be studied and differentiated using DNA analysis. Out of the 34,000 samples, it was determined they identified 545 individual grizzly bears. Using their mathematical calculations they determined they captured hair samples of 70% of the population of bears in the heavily wooded study area making for a grand total estimate of 765 bears in this area. 

Now, we all have known for quite some time that there are way more bears than what they say there are and this is just one case of grossly underestimating the population! Once again, this study area is a very small part of the grizzly bear’s home range, and doesn’t include the GYE’s minimal estimate of 700 bears. So we know there are a ton of bears out there and the rising number of incidents in the past decade indicate a growing population. 

Unfortunately, the battle isn’t going to get any easier with the environmentalists and after an eye opening, friendly discussion with a “bear lover” it has become obvious to me that when it comes to grizzly bear populations enough will never be enough. 

They want at least 50,000 bears (citing Lewis and Clark’s estimated numbers) and they hold that the real problem is there are too many people and not enough bears. This individual also indicated that she values the lives of bears over the lives of her fellow Americans. My hope is that federal judges will eventually turn to science and facts, allowing the states to manage their bears in an effort to maintain a sustainable grizzly population and keep citizens safe. 

Yet, the big question is, how many more people are going to have to die from grizzly attacks and how many more bears have to be euthanized before sound, scientific management practices are put in place?

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  1. Randolph Holford

    The environmentalists could be right!! Too many people…not enough bears! The question is which people do we begin eliminating?? Obviously, for me, this comment is intended to be humorous but I don’t know what to think about comments by the “Environmentalists” most of which get lost if they get off a well defined trail.

  2. Excellent article Dan and I agree with the points made.

  3. Bryan Clines

    At some point federal judges need to turn bear management over to western states. I myself am all for this to happen. My fear is that way to many people will have to die before it happens. What really needs to happen is a environmentalist needs to have a bear encounter to see just what we mean. It’s a sad day when you can’t enjoy our public lands for having to look over your shoulder constantly. These lands are paid for by our taxes set aside for us to use each and everyone of us.
    The sad part is once bears reach over population and disease sets in we will be set back decades because of the loss in massive numbers. If we don’t manage wildlife Mother Nature will and she isn’t humane about it by no means.
    I’m tired of the constant fight to protect our god given right to manage his creation. Just my opinion on this matter, this battle will be much bigger and much longer than the wolves ever was.
    Predators have to be managed both in numbers but quality of the animal. We have to manage both predator and game animals with upmost respect to both. We have to protect what we have for the future, each animal that walks the earth deserves to be carried on through the future.
    We should never allow for any group of species dip to near extinction. We should always manage to respectable numbers, but never allow over population to get to the point of disease and massive die off either.
    I am a hunter but first and always a conservationist for all species predator or game animal!!

  4. Todd Eastman

    Maybe we could get volunteer Environmentalists first,
    Then the Child molesters, then Mass Murderers and so on. Maybe that would make the lady happy in your article.
    As long as she gets to see her precious Grizzlies.
    Just a Thought.

  5. It would be nice if Eastmans would start taking the initiate on subjects like bear, wolf, and cougar population control and start asking readers to contact their representatives, Zinke, etc so we can get a handle on this. List some contact names and addresses. It’s all fine and dandy to publish an article about statistics and such but to start a letter/email campaign is what needs to be done. But until we convey our displeasure and hold people accountable this is just ANOTHER bear article.

  6. Gary Evenson

    I think Grizzlies should be established in some of their traditional haunts, like Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, etc. That way the environmentalists could interact with their beloved Grizzlies more easily

  7. Gary Bateman

    I don’t agree with the statement that “we have all known for a long time that there are way more bears” than what they are saying. I would guess that most of your readers have spent relatively little time trying to get population estimates in areas that they hunt and, further, that they only hunt in a tiny portion of known grizzly habitat. They have no basis for knowing that there are “way more bears”!

    You also have a couple of glaring factual errors in the article: grizzly bears are probably not the hardest animal to get a population estimate for. Consider the wolverine and mountain lion for example, surely they are more secretive and difficult to “count” than are bears. I suspect that your readers are far more likely to have seen grizzlies than they have either of these other species while they were out in the woods. I also suspect that the majority of the readers have not encountered a grizzly while hunting.

    You say the management of grizzlies is political, but you are preaching to one side of the argument and a lot of your statements have no foundation in fact.

    • Even more-so Gary, the northern flying squirrel and pocket gopher are the two hardest animals to get an accurate population count on.

    • Gary you are an angry man. I have see cougars many times, grizzlies rarely, and never a wolverine. Wolverine habitat is tiny in the US, ask any wildlife biologist. Grizzly habitat as you put it is everywhere west of the Mississippi. We have virtually no big game, where I live, compared to 40 years ago. Up until 27 years ago, dogs where used to hunt cougars and black bears. We now have so many bears and cougars we can take two of each. It is just as easy to find a bear as a buck deer. Also if you think every nook and cranny (outside of National Parks} never has a hunter in it, you need to get off of the couch. I postulate the only reason we have few grizzlies in my neck of the woods, is people kill them thinking they are black bears. There are way to many predators where I live to carry that population. And anyone who actually values an animal life over a human life, may need a shrink.

    • Actually Gary, without it being an environmental impact statement, the article had several hard number “facts” on populations and noted where those facts came from. AND, it is MOST political! When you have specialist biologists telling one thing and then a group with known anti-hunting biases & a compliant press going to court where they pretty much hand pick which judge they want to go before and this judge rules against facts & expert witness testimony……that’s politics!!!

  8. No problem finding left wing loons!

  9. Carhartt Mike

    The Grizzly is another in a long history of wildlife-hunter-conservation successes; this hardy fact should serve as predicate for an intensified management ethos. Unfortunately the politicization of wildlife conservation becomes intensely intractable when the ‘Big predators’ lay in the crucible. In many ways the scientific community has revealed the limits of it’s objectivity by falling ‘prey’ to heightened emotionalism that’s being brought to ‘bear’ upon presenting research constructs. Consequently wildlife management is the ‘mirror-image’ of the continuing polemics and oppositional politics of our day.

    Too often the debate is interjected with claims-making that reflects too much indirect control and too little direct experience within the locales where management decisions meet at the point of impact. And lest we forget those distinguished ‘wildlife experts’ on the federal bench where science and emotionalism collide. Its far too reductionist to conclude its’s a matter of priority of who gets to hunt the moose-the Griz, or Man-though I’d like both to play a role in management qua management. From my low station its become plain that those who ‘partake’ from the ‘outside and above’ would like to see the Griz prevail as ultimate arbiter in that struggle,

    However, as this debate becomes intensified-and wholly untenable given reality on the ground-
    without the Hunter-Conservationist the Grizzly would-have-and-will perish, along with their prey; unfortunately ‘common sense’ is no longer common…

  10. If they want that many 50,000 then we need to start translocations to Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Washington DC . Let them deal with it see how they feel

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