FROM THE YELLOWSTONE ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT SUBCOMMITTEE October 23, 2001
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT MARK HAROLDSON IGBST AT 406-994-5042
YELLOWSTONE ECOSYSTEM GRIZZLY BEAR POPULATION DOING WELL, BUT 2001 MORTALITIES HIGHLIGHT THE NEED FOR MORE EFFORTS TO MINIMIZE CONFLICTS BETWEEN BEARS AND PEOPLE
The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommitte (YES), comprised of the state and federal agencies managing grizzly bears and their habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem, reports there were 42 unduplicated females with cubs counted in the Yellowstone ecosystem during 2001. All of these females were within the area where population data are recorded in and around the Yellowstone recovery zone. This is a new record high number of females seen with cubs, 7 higher than the previous high number of females with cubs seen in 1998 and 2000. There were at least 78 cubs observed with these 42 females in 2001 and this is also a new record high number. These 2001 numbers continue upward trends in the most reliable indicators of Yellowstone grizzly bear population status.
As of October 17, 2001, there have been 16 known and probable human-caused mortalities in the 14,481 square mile area where mortalities are counted and compared to the mortality limits in the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. Of these 16 deaths (9 males and 7 females), 14 were the result of management removals after conflicts with human activity. A vehicle along the North Fork of the Shoshone Highway hit another bear, and the remaining death is still under investigation. In addition to these 16 deaths, in April a black bear hunter in Wyoming illegally killed an adult male grizzly bear.
Of the human-caused management removals, 5 were adult females, making 2001 the year of highest adult female deaths since the 1980s. Although the 2001 female mortality level is the highest in 20 years, it is a much-reduced percentage of the population compared to the 1980s, as represented by the annual unduplicated females with cubs. Adult females are key to the continued health of the Yellowstone population and we make every effort to minimize adult female deaths. While the number of females that died in 2001 was high, it should be recognized that the Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly population continues to expand in both numbers and range.
Two of the management removals were due to cattle depredations. Another was due to a combination of sheep depredations, property damage, and garbage. Eleven bears were removed due to chronic property damage and use of garbage and human-related foods. Of these 11 bears, 3 were cubs removed with their mothers who were teaching them to eat garbage and/or enter buildings. Cubs who learn such behaviors from their mother are likely to continue to seek food at human use sites as they grow older. The loss of these family groups of bears was particularly disturbing. All of these 11 bears using garbage and entering buildings got into trouble on private lands. This highlights the need for increased agency efforts to encourage private landowners to properly store foods and garbage so they are not available to bears. As the Yellowstone grizzly population continues to expand in numbers and distribution, we expect more grizzly bears to be on private lands, making ongoing food and garbage storage on these lands a primary management concern if we are to minimize bear-human conflicts in the future.
The dry conditions in 2001 likely increased the number of nuisance bear incidents as some bears were forced to use low-elevation areas where moisture and foods were more abundant. When bears do move into low-elevation areas, they often end up on private lands where food and garbage storage issues are a problem.
The whitebark pine cone crop was poor in the southern part of the ecosystem where many of the conflicts occurred. Whitebark pine cone production on the 19 transects across the ecosystem averaged 25.5 cones per tree in 2001. Near exclusive fall use of whitebark pine seed by grizzly bears occurs during years in which mean cone production exceeds 20 cones per tree. Grizzly bears throughout most of the Yellowstone Ecosystem, except the southern areas, should find an abundance of whitebark pine cones during the fall of 2001.
In the southeastern corner of the ecosystem, an apparent abundance of army cutworm moths will likely compensate for the poor whitebark cone production. Large numbers of grizzly bears have been observed at insect aggregation sites since mid July.
The Yellowstone Ecosystem Managers will increase efforts to work with private landowners to emphasize making human-related foods unavailable to bears so bear-human conflicts are minimized along with the resulting deaths of bears. Ideas on how to increase efforts in this regard will be discussed at the upcoming meeting of the management subcommittee on December 4-5 in Jackson. The managers remind people that the grizzly bears are still out in the Yellowstone ecosystem. People need to do what is necessary to store food and garbage properly while using public lands and to secure attractants on private lands throughout the Yellowstone ecosystem.
The Yellowstone Ecosystem Managers include Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks; the Shoshone, Bridger-Teton, Targhee, Gallatin, Beaverhead-Deerlodge, and Custer National Forests; the game and fish departments of the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the Fish and Wildlife Service; and the U.S. Geological Survey.