When I first heard the news about Grizzly 168 over the summer, I cannot say I was shocked. Sometimes as scientists, researchers, and managers, we think we know everything that’s going on. The reality is, we do not. We are fortunate to be given the scantiest glimpse into a bears’ life through our ability to track and monitor movements and activity using new GPS technology, but not every bear is captured, and not every bear is collared or tagged. There very well could be a bear on the landscape that might be older than grizzly 168.
Before we even knew grizzly 168 was still on the landscape, other bears like grizzlies 193, 585, 629 all reached or exceeded the age of 30. Surprisingly, one of the oldest bears captured was 32 years old, in the Cabinet Mountains (Kasworm & Manley 1988). More than likely, it is conceivable that another bear could have reached the ripe age of 34 and entirely avoided human contact during its entire life.
Below you can find summaries of the natural life histories of the bears mentioned throughout the media, as well as capture tables.
Grizzly 168: As a three-year-old, grizzly 168 was first captured August 13, 1989, at Pacific Creek in the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF); the following year, during 1990, he dropped his collar. On August 31, 1991, grizzly 168 was captured again at Denoir - Long Creek in the Shoshone National Forest (SNF). Unlike his first capture, 168 would wear this collar for another two years until he dropped it in 1993. Three-years would pass until grizzly 168 was captured on May 16, 1996, at Diamond G Ranch, Dunoir R., WY; the following year, in 1997, he dropped his collar. Grizzly 168 would go 23 years without being captured for management or research purposes.
During July 2020, grizzly 168 began to target calves (cattle) in the Wagon Creek area, located in the Upper Green River Basin. He was subsequently captured. On July 30, 2020, grizzly 168 was euthanized; his declining body condition and health made him a feeble candidate for relocation, and euthanasia was the most humane and ethical option feasible.
As previously discussed, grizzly 168 sired a three-cub litter to grizzly 279 during 2005 or 2006, and there is potential he bred again during 2009 (at 23 years old). In 2019, he mated with another female. The adult female and her remaining cub were captured and relocated in 2018 after damaging a cargo trailer attempting to gorge on grain.
Grizzly 279 Notes: Grizzly 279 was likely born in 1993 and first captured as a three-year-old at Blackrock Creek, Bridger Teton National Forest (BTNF). She would remain collared for the next several years until 1999 when she dropped her collar. A small window of time went by where she avoided human contact. Eventually, she was captured again on August 28, 2008, for management purposes near Sheridan Creek, SNF for cattle depredation and relocated; researchers did not observe her with cubs during 2008. Interestingly, during 2009, grizzly 279 was initially observed with four cubs-of-the-year. However, by 2010, she had lost two of the four. On August 3, 2010, grizzly 279 was captured again for management at Sheridan Creek, SNF, again involved with cattle depredations. Consequently, grizzly 279 was removed. At the time of her capture, she was accompanied by two yearling cubs, who were relocated.
Grizzly 203 Notes: This bear was first a management action on August 25, 1992, at Flagstaff Creek, BTNF, for cattle depredations. The bear would later cast his collar. He was captured again on July 8, 1994, near Grizzly Creek, BTNF, and August 3, 1995, at North Fork Spread Creek, BTNF. This is one of two bears referred to as the “Togwotee Cattle Killers.”
Grizzly 209 Notes: Grizzly 209 was likely born in 1987 and first captured July 14, 1993, northwest of Baldy Mountain, BTNF, for management purposes. He was captured and relocated for cattle depredation. In 1994, grizzly 209 was captured on June 18 at Spread Creek, BTNF. Unfortunately, 209 has a knack for killing cattle. On September 8, 1995, he was captured near Elk Ranch, Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), and relocated after killing cattle. Subsequently, on August 4, 1996, he was again captured at Elk Ranch, GTNP, for management purposes (livestock depredation) and consequently removed.
Grizzly 193 Notes: Grizzly 193 was likely born in 1986 and first captured as a five-year-old on August 29, 1991, at Mesa Pit Rd, Yellowstone National Park (YNP); she was captured again one month later, on September 29, 1991, at Mesa Pit Rd, YNP. During 1993, grizzly 193 cast her collar. Eight years would pass until 193 was captured again at Gibbon River, YNP, on October 2, 2001. During 2002 researchers observed her with two cubs-of-the-year (COY). She was captured on July 27, 2003, at Gibbon River, YNP; during 2003, researchers observed her with one yearling that likely perished. During 2004, grizzly 193 was observed with her second litter, this time with two COY. Another nine years later, grizzly 193 was captured June 20, 2013, at the Gibbon River, YNP, and recaptured on June 22. Subsequently, during 2014 she was captured on August 21 at the Gibbon River, YNP. This would be the last time 193 would be captured and handled- the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) would monitor her until 2016 when she cast her collar for the final time. Readers should note that between 2013-2016, no litters of cubs were observed.
Grizzly 585 Notes: Likely born in 1978, grizzly 585 was only captured once on June 14, 2008, near the Yellowstone River, YNP. Grizzly 585 was 30 years old at the time of his capture.
Grizzly 629 Notes: Likely born in 1978, grizzly 629 was captured once on October 12, 2009, at North Fork Shoshone, WY, for management; he was relocated. He was 31 years old at the time of capture.
In addition to the information already published in various news and media outlets, I thought it would be useful to provide some additional information on the methods behind aging grizzlies (annular cementum aging). Please see the new tab link here.
Grizzly bear 663 was only captured, handled and collared once during her lifetime; trapped on October 2, 2010 at Jasper Creek in Yellowstone National Park. At the time of her first and only capture, she was 6 years old, weighing 206 lbs. and not accompanied by any cubs at that time. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team fitted 663 with a radio collar. In 2011, during aerial flights and visual observations, no cubs were observed. During 2012, she was observed with 2 cubs-of-the-year (COY) during May, but no cubs were observed during the month of June; presumably, both cubs perished but the cause of mortality is unknown. In 2013, 663 cast her collar. Observations during 2013 concluded that 663 did not have cubs. During 2014, 663 was observed with two cubs-of-the-year; later in the summer, she was observed with only one. The following year 2015, she was observed with no cubs, suggesting that her lone remaining cub perished some point during 2014. As of 2020, grizzly 663 is 16 years old.
Figure(s): Four maps depicting varying spatial components pertaining to grizzly 663 from 2016-2018. During this three-year period, citizen scientists and park personnel observed 663 for 180+ credible and verified observations. (A) Displays observations by month, and outlines 50% and 95% observational home ranges (OHR). (B) Displays Kernel Density Estimation (KDE) while outlining 50% and 95% OHR. (C) Displays habitat and vegetation type located inside of the 50% and 95% OHR, which is predominantly big sagebrush, Idaho fescue with inter-mixed subalpine fir. (D) Displays movement tracks calculated by linking subsequent sightings based on date and time.
Since 2016, grizzly 663 has exhibited seasonally 'predictable' movements. The road which runs from Mammoth to Cooke City fragments her observational home range. From 2016-2018, grizzly 663 completed one full reproductive cycle. During this period of time, we estimate her 95% observational home range at roughly 40 km2; her 50% observational home range sits at roughly 28 km2. While grizzly 663 has a range that is noticeably smaller than the documented average by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study team, it could be for several reasons. In areas of high density or similar necessity for nutritional resources, ranges exhibited by female grizzlies are much smaller as opposed to those home ranges documented in low-density areas. This change is likely due to competition for space, and areas of frequent foraging; also the avoidance of dominant male grizzlies (Blanchard & Knight 1991, Dahle & Swenson 2003, Schwartz et al. 2003, Dahle et al. 2006, Edwards et al. 2013, Bjornlie et al. 2014).
Grizzly 663 is just one of nearly half-a-dozen females within the Lamar Valley area that exhibit an observational home range less than 100 km2 over a three year period. In the case of Lamar Valley, given the number of observations and the number of unique individual bears surveyed in one day (n = 31), we speculate that the density is a driving factor for smaller home ranges for females with cubs in this region of Yellowstone, and could vary seasonally.
"Not all who wander are lost": Movements and ranges of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone & The story of Grizzly 480
Grizzly 480 was born sometime around 1996, somewhere in the confines of Yellowstone National Park. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) first captured grizzly 480 at Cascade Creek, YNP, on October 8, 2004. His capture was part of the annual research and monitoring initiative set forth by the IGBST. During this initial capture, he was first marked and radio-collared. Two-days post initial capture grizzly 480 found himself back into the same trap; he was released on-site and not handled. Just short of one-year, on September 25, 2005, grizzly 480 was captured at Antelope Creek, YNP. The following year during 2006, grizzly 480 ‘shucked’ his collar (dropped).
There was a hiatus in monitoring for grizzly 480; nearly 13-years elapsed until grizzly 480 made contact with IGBST researchers. On September 20, 2018, grizzly 480 was captured at Antelope Creek, YNP. During his handling, they collared him for research monitoring. Two weeks later, researchers captured grizzly 480 at Cascade Creek, YNP. Between his first and second captures in 2018, he cast his collar. At the time of the second subsequent capture, he was released and not handled (Haroldson et al. 2005, 2006, 2007, 2018)
Grizzly 480 displays traditional movements for a male grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Unlike females and females with cubs, males have much larger home ranges. Also, males do not display a high level of fidelity to their home ranges as females exhibit. Home range size is a function of resource availability; as sizes of home ranges decrease, habitat quality increases (Steiniger et al. 2010). A home range is defined as the “area traversed by the individual in its normal activities of food gathering, mating, and caring for young” (Burt, 1943). Home ranges are incredibly variable based on sex, age, and demographic groups. Several factors should be considered with the construction of home ranges for grizzly bears (Munro et al. 2006, Ross 2002, McLellan 1989).
1. Grizzlies are omnivorous and eat primarily vegetation.
2. Often, they will roam widely in search of berries and food sources during late summer and autumn (dispersal, and motivated by food)
3. They are not territorial (their home ranges do overlap!)
4. Adult and subadult males will have home ranges known to be several times larger than that of females
5. Home range is directly impacted by population density
6. Bears may move hundreds of kilometers during dispersal.
7. Grizzlies are known to avoid some environments such as high elevations with rocks, snow, mainly because of limited food; however, that does not exclude them crossing such an environment.
8. Grizzlies are slow to mature and reproduce (one of the slowest reproductive rates amongst all terrestrial mammals)
As mentioned, population density can greatly influence grizzly movements. In areas of high density or similar necessity for nutritional resources, ranges exhibited by female grizzlies are much smaller as opposed to those home ranges documented in low-density areas. This change is likely due to competition for space, and areas of frequent foraging; also the avoidance of dominant male grizzlies (Blanchard & Knight 1991, Dahle & Swenson 2003, Schwartz et al. 2003, Dahle et al. 2006, Edwards et al. 2013, Bjornlie et al. 2014). Patterns of movement are generally food driven; early spring, when bears first emerge from their dens, they will move to lower elevations in valley regions, where there is likely absence of snow, in efforts to find new green vegetation. Females with cubs-of-the-year (COY), however, will likely remain at higher, less preferred areas close to the den, due to the need for security of their cubs during a time of lacking mobility. As spring progresses, movements increase, and this stays true until the fall for most bears.
In the case of grizzly 480, an adult male grizzly bear, their movements generally peak during May & June. Daily activity and movement levels for both male and female grizzly bears typically peak during dawn or dusk, which we refer to as a “crepuscular activity pattern.”
Despite significant changes in distribution, and the availability of specific food resources and habitat, lifetime home ranges did not change for male or female grizzly bears and remained consistent between 1975-1993 in comparison to 1994-2012.
Grizzly 79 was first captured and marked by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in 1981 at seven-years-old. Grizzly 79 was a so-called ‘frequent flyer’ in the northern section of Yellowstone National Park, well known and recognized by park officials and the local community of Gardiner, MT. Over the next decade, she would remain close and exhibit high fidelity to her home range. She was relocated numerous times, only to find her way back.
Nearly 29-years ago, grizzly 79 found herself in the town of Gardiner, Montana, with her two, yearling cubs (179 & 182). On August 21, 1990, Grizzly 79 and her cubs (179, 182) were trapped for management reasons and relocated. Grizzly 79 was relocated to the remote southeast location of Thorofare, YNP. In contrast, her two yearling cubs (179 & 182) were relocated to Glade Creek, now located in the present-day John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway (JDRMP).
Grizzly 79 was able to navigate Yellowstone and its surrounding communities, without ever being removed. It is remarkable, however, that she was captured 8-times during her life, 7-times for management reasons. Unfortunately, Grizzly 79 was shot and killed by a hunter who claimed self-defense in 1996. Never once in her 22-years in the ecosystem did researchers or community members record an aggressive encounter between her and people. During her nearly two decades in the ecosystem, grizzly 79 was responsible for siring approximately five litters of cubs (grizzly 179 had six litters in her life, and grizzly 182 was known to have one litter).
August 1990 marked the beginning for these two young grizzlies, now on their own for the first time. Grizzly 179 took up residence in the region in and around the eastern extent of Grand Teton National Park, while her sibling grizzly 182, headed north to the area around Heart Lake, YNP. Both siblings were female, and both bears had their first litters of cubs by age 7. Grizzly 179, unlike her sibling, chose to share her life more intimately with biologists and researchers. Since 1990, grizzly 179 was captured over half a dozen times, her sibling 182 only twice. Grizzly bears with such extensive life histories as 79, 179, and 182 have contributed tremendous amounts of data that help us better understand the species, their biology, and the issues they currently face. Our ability to monitor daily, seasonal and annual movements & activities of these bears is undoubtedly a major contributing factor to their overall recovery and conservation success of the present day.
“A fed bear was not always a dead bear”: Abrupt bear management changes of the Craighead Era, and current management strategy of today
1. History of the Refuse Dumps in Yellowstone National Park
As visitation and tourism increased in Yellowstone National Park, refuse and waste created directly from park visitors, lodging, and transportation posed a new problem. The park decided to create simple dump sites, often situated close to the origin of refuse and waste. Many of the refuse sites were extremely accessible to people (Otter Creek, Old Faithful) except for few (Trout Creek, Rabbit Creek). Two of the smaller dump sites, Otter Creek & Old Faithful, had concrete platforms where waste was dumped. A fence would separate the viewing bleachers from the area which the bears would feed. Specifically, at Otter Creek, rangers and park officials would provide educational and informational lectures about the bears known as "bear shows", until this practice ceased in 1942. Even though the "bear shows" had ended, the refuse sites remained active, allowing the park to handle increasing waste from visitation, and enabling bears to continue feeding at well-established and developed sites with predictable sources of food (Craighead et al. 1995).
Photos: Minor open areas, similar to scars (pictured above) are still left in the area of the Trout Creek refuse pit in Hayden Valley, YNP. You can still find some discarded soda bottles, old steel cans, and broken ceramics in the area where the dump use to be located. Even with the garbage dumps gone, bear activity is still extremely high in Hayden Valley.
Major dumps were developed and positioned so that their visibility and accessibility was limited to the public, in a direct effort to not affect the public impression of the park and take away from its known aesthetic beauty. Some of the more notable dump sites from north to south include Gardiner, Cooke City, Tower Junction, West Yellowstone, Trout Creek, Rabbit Creek, Pelican Creek, and West Thumb.
Photos: The above images are all taken from where the Trout Creek refuse (garbage) dump once stood. Today, very few remnants are left behind to indicate any past presence of the dump site. Remaining relics such as old sardine cans, steel cans and glass soda bottles are the only remnants of Yellowstone's historic refuse dump past. The Trout Creek garbage dump was at the center of the Craighead's research in Hayden Valley. It is here they were able to observe the behavior of grizzlies, and collect census information pertaining to just how many bears occupied the area. The Craighead's collected census information and identified a rough number of individuals at most of the dump sites throughout (some on the periphery) of Yellowstone National Park.
2. Who were the Craighead brothers?
In a nutshell: In 1958, John and Frank Craighead began their decade long study of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. During this study, the Craigheads made initial advances in wildlife ecology, conservation, and management. They are responsible for pioneering the use of radio telemetry, chemical immobilization, and wildlife handling and population modeling (Craighead Institute, n.d.). The Craigheads were also responsible for the introduction of the ecosystem concept to wildlife management, as many of their findings demonstrated that grizzly bears were using a much larger area than just Yellowstone National Park (Craighead Institute, n.d.). In 1998, John Craighead received the Aldo Leopold Award. Both Frank & John were named among the top scientists in the country by the Audubon Society (Howard, 2016). Interestingly enough, both brothers attended Penn State University. Additionally, they worked for the Navy during World War II and were instrumental in developing a survival school and training program for the Navy's pilots; their survival guide was written in 1943 (Howard, 2016). Both Frank and John received their doctorates from the University of Michigan. John Craighead worked many decades at the University of Montana leading the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit (Howard, 2016).
3. Management Strategy Changes: Past & Present
Before 1963, Yellowstone National Park had three criteria for managing black and grizzly bear populations, summarized by Craighead et al. 1995: 1.) To sustain populations of grizzly bears and black bears under natural conditions as part of natural fauna; 2.) to minimize conflicts and unpleasant or dangerous incidents with bears through control actions; 3.) to encourage bears to lead their natural lives with minimum interference from humans. At this point, the strategy was largely criticized by Frank and John Craighead, the pioneers of grizzly bear research in Yellowstone National Park. The National Park Service was reactive rather than proactive in their management of bears, and they lacked research to achieve a basic scientific understanding of the resources they had been assigned to manage (Craighead et al. 1995).
Between 1959 through 1968, there were relatively few management issues or problems with grizzly bears in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. However, after the rapid closing of all garbage dumps in the park and along its borders, human-bear interaction and conflict increased drastically (Craighead & Craighead 1971). The new management strategy was to completely phase out and eliminate open-pit garbage dumps. The abrupt change forced grizzlies into campground and areas with dense visitor occupancy leading to a drastic spike in the number of documented conflicts. "Habituated behavior demonstrated by bears is usually an indication of poor people management. Problem bears are not born, they are made (Jonkel 1993)."
“We did not realize it at the time, but the close of 1967 was to be a turning point in our study. Changes in park policy would drastically affect the grizzly bear population and our research. Our population statistics, including the nine years of data on grizzly bear mortality, would now provide a basis for assessing the population changes resulting from a complete alteration in bear management policy in the park.
In the years of our study prior to 1967, annual grizzly mortality, though much of it was caused by man, was still not exceeding annual gains to the population. In the six years from 1968 through 1973, 189 known deaths occurred, an average of 31.5 bears per year with maximum deaths of 53 and 48 grizzlies in 1970 and 1971, respectively. Park administrators, not knowing or not understanding the biology of bears and their low reproductive rate, would be eliminating more bears than could be annually replaced; mature females, the crucial nucleus of the population, were to be high among the casualties.”
– Frank C. Craighead, Jr.
Chapter 9: The Pattern of Mortality
Track of the Grizzly, 1979
Insight: In 1967, the National Park Service was considering moving forward with the proposal to close down the open pit garbage/refuse dumps throughout Yellowstone National Park (commonly used by grizzly bears). The park would alternatively switch to using incineration as a means to rid of garbage created by the park and its visitors. This switch would negate potential health hazards which could result from the open refuse pits throughout the park. Closing the open pit dumps would also help assist return grizzly bears to their natural behavior, not dependent on human foods, garbage or hand-outs (Craighead 1979). The Craigheads' in general, were in favor of closing the open-pit garbage dumps. However, they were at stiff odds with the Park Service with how to achieve such a goal, without significantly impacting the current grizzly bear population (Craighead 1979). The Park Service expressed their plans to quickly close the dumps, using a "cold turkey" approach, whereas the Craigheads advised a plan that would phase out the open pit dumps over a longer time scale, with a tentative plan to monitor movements and provide supplementary food sources (Craighead 1979).
The Craigheads based their reasoning on the knowledge they acquired during their research on feeding and movement patterns; these patterns that were documented could not be changed suddenly to fall in line with proposed park policy from park officials (Craighead 1979). For nearly eighty years grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park had used garbage dumps frequently to forage for food; as park visitation increased, so did the amount of refuse being dumped in the open pits (Craighead 1979). Grizzlies repeatedly returned to these areas where they had previously found and identified a food source. The Craigheads believed that closing the dumps abruptly without providing some sort of supplementary food (elk, deer, bison carcasses) would allow bears to move into campgrounds and developed areas to forage resulting in increased incidents and human-bear conflict (Craighead 1979). Without going into grave detail, the bureaucracy involved in the events to follow was unfortunate, and can be referenced in "Chapter 10: Bureaucracy and Bear: The Grizzly Controversy, Track of the Grizzly: Frank C. Craighead, Jr. 1979."
The year 1970 marked the beginning of a new management strategy for managing grizzly and black bears in Yellowstone National Park. As previously mentioned, before 1970, open dump garbage pits made human foods easily available for bears, causing what is now referred to as "food conditioning." As documented by the Craigheads, the sudden dump closures resulted in increased mortality. In six years from 1968-1973, 189 known deaths occurred, averaging 31.5 bears per year (maximum deaths of 53 and 48 grizzlies in 1970 and 1971). The newly implemented bear management strategy focused on preventing bears from obtaining any human foods, garbage or other attractants (Meagher and Phillips 1983), disregarding any suggestions made by the Craigheads regarding alternatives such as, long term phase out approaches with supplementary food sources (elk, bison, deer carcasses at the dump locations) being provided. Most of the bears that were food-conditioned found themselves at odds with park personnel and visitors and consequently were removed from the park by 1980. The number of bear mortalities during this period could have been avoided, had park managers heeded to the recommendations set forth by Frank and John Craighead. The whole ordeal, had it gone the other way, just might have changed the course of history for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone.
The decades proceeding 1980, visitation and tourism increased, and so did the populations of both grizzly and black bears. Surely, this was a sign of successful conservation strategies and protections in place (i.e. Endangered Species Act), but initially at expense of the grizzly & black bear populations. More bears were commonly found near roadsides, foraging in open meadows on native foods, close to visitors (Haroldson and Gunther 2013). The initial strategy was to prevent habituation from occurring (before 1990). At this point, roadside bears were not tolerated. Park personnel and staff were worried about the potential risk to humans (automobile accidents, conflicts, etc.). Hazing, relocation, and removal of bears by park officials were common to solve habituation issues.
The beginning of the 1990s marked another subsequent change in bear management strategy: habituation tolerance. Instead of regularly and frequently hazing, relocating/trapping or removal habituated bears, the strategy of tolerating habituation was implemented. Park staff often are called to "bear jams" where bears are often in proximity to the roadway and easily observed. The main priority of park staff dispatched to bear jams is to ensure public safety. This includes ensuring vehicles are parked legally, visitors are behaving appropriately, and not creating an unsafe or unpredictable situation by approaching, harassing or feeding bears present (Richardson et al. 2015). This strategy has been in place for 29 years (1990-2019)
[Meanwhile, even National Park Service personnel were quietly admitting that when it came to grizzlies, the Craighead’s had been on the right track after all. By the end of the century, shortly before Frank Craighead died in 2001, one authoritative book declared that their Society-supported grizzly bear study remained the “longest-running, most thorough, most fertile and most definitive of them all, the standard by which all subsequent study of bears has been measured.”]
National Geographic Timeline
September 22, 2016
4. Bear Safety & Food Storage
Grizzly bears and black bears can be found almost anywhere inside of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. Odors, whether from food or other aromatic sources can attract them to come into campgrounds, developments to investigate. Food and other aromatic products which may intrigue or probe the curiosity (investigation) from a bear should be properly stored when not of immediate use. In the National Parks and some of the outlying territories, bear-resistant food storage boxes are available. When these boxes are not available, seek the use of bear canisters, or even bear sacks (can be hung and elevated). It is important that if you are camping or using the backcountry, never to store food on your person, or in your tent at night. Store all food in the proper areas, or you could receive a citation, and be fined. All of the following need to be properly stored in bear-resistant containers/boxes or your vehicle when not being actively used:
Never leave aromatic, or products containing an odor for any duration of time. All food should be easily within reach and accessible. Never allow bears to obtain a food reward; if a bear approaches you in a campground or backcountry site, never abandon your food and throw food at the bear in an attempt to distract or divert it. Throw rocks, bang pots, and pans, make noise, letting that bear know it is not welcome. At the same time, expediently clean up your area of food. Encountering a bear on a trail is much different as opposed to that in a developed area or campground setting. Backcountry areas and trails are managed so that bears have the priority. Front country and developed areas (i.e. campgrounds) are managed so that people are given the priority. If a bear is observed or encounters at close distance on the trail, slowly retreat, talk in a calm voice, do not panic. If it is possible, and you encounter a bear at distance, position yourself so you are downwind, alerting the bear to your presence as they pick up your scent (this is not always practical).
Unlike humans, the homes or dens grizzly bears construct, are only temporary. Snow, wind, rain often times will consume dens over the years, making them hardly noticeable to the naked eye; nature restores and repairs itself for those who live in it, and respect it. Nature mask’s the small and minor scars in which bears create and call their homes.
Rarely do bears use the same den twice, but typically they will den around the same general area. Females typically den in much closer proximity to their dens from previous years on average than their male counterparts, which sometimes den close or extremely far away from previous annual den locations (there is variability).
In Shoshoni, grizzly bear is expressed as “a’shi wu da” (Univ. Utah, 2019). The grizzly bear and bears in general have sacred meaning, and significance to many native tribes. As a symbol to many Native Americans, the bear was seen as a free spirit, just as the great wind. Natives noted that the bear has a demonstrated quality of unpredictability; we speak of a creature that is massive in size and peacefully forages in the woods, plains on berries and plants. When the bear is provoked, native Americans witnessed ferocity expressed that could elicit obvious terror. Native Americans have an enormous level of respect towards the great bear because of its power, strength. When tribes honored a warrior, witnessing the bear embodied that exact kind of powerful surge, courage and strength to which every warrior strives to possess. At the same time, the bear was also respected by many tribes for its peaceful disposition (Venefica, 2018)
The Bear Dance
A Shoshone sage once witnessed a site of a clan of bears who were performing what he described as a ritual dance (bear dance). These were not spirit bears, but real bears, in the bipedal position dancing in the sun. The Shoshone sage said this was a “dance of gratitude as well as a prayer for healing and protection of their young.” The Shoshone tribes have instituted their own “Sun Dance” and the bear serves as the central integral figure of this ritual, symbolizing protection, strength and progeny of the tribe (Venefica, 2018)
Growing up in the North Fork
Grizzly bear 104 spent nearly her entire life near Pahaska Tepee in the Shoshone National Forest, the original lodge built by Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody near the turn of the century. Born around 1982, grizzly 104 was first captured during 1984. Visitors noted that she had her first litter of cubs around the East Entrance of Yellowstone during the spring of 1986. At age 5, she was captured with her cubs, and relocated from around the East Entrance area to the Northern Range (Blacktail) in Yellowstone National Park; she would again be relocated from the Dunraven-Mt. Washburn area to the southern-most section of Yellowstone National Park. Grizzly bears and other ursids have the innate ability to “home” back into their original home area, and that is exactly what 104 did. In 1988 and 1989, she was photographed near Pahaska Tepee, SNF. In 1989, she would have her second litter, 3 cubs-of-the-year (COY). She would rear them and eventually wean, and kick them loose to be on their own in 1991. On May 14, 1991 she was captured at Wilsey’s cabin, North Fork Shoshone, SNF and released on site. On July 24, 1992, grizzly 104 was again captured on the North Fork Shoshone, SNF; again, she was released on site. During 1992, grizzly 104 was observed with 2 COY. She would raise them to weaning age, and kick them during 1994. For seven years, grizzly 104 would roam the landscape around the North Fork Shoshone and East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We do not have much information on her reproductive habits during this time frame.
Some would say that grizzly 104 was a roadside bear, and that inevitably resulted in her demise. On May 14, 2001, grizzly 104 was struck by a vehicle in the North Fork Shoshone, SNF. At the time, she was accompanied by one yearling cub, who did survive the incident. Grizzly 104 is now on display at the museum in Cody, Wyoming.
1.) Haroldson, M. A., and K. Frey. 2002. Grizzly bear mortalities. Pages 23-28 in C. C. Schwartz and M. A. Haroldson, editors. Yellowstone grizzly bear investigations: annual report of the Interagency Study Team, 2001. U.S. Geological Survey, Bozeman, Montana.
2.) Knight, R.R., B.M. Blanchard, and D.J. Mattson. 1990. Yellowstone grizzly bear investigations: annual report of the Interagency Study Team, 1989. National Park Service, Bozeman, Montana.
3.) Knight, R.R., B.M. Blanchard, and D.J. Mattson. 1992. Yellowstone grizzly bear investigations: annual report of the Interagency Study Team, 1991. National Park Service, Bozeman, Montana.
4.) Knight, R.R., B.M. Blanchard, and D.J. Mattson. 1993. Yellowstone grizzly bear investigations: annual report of the Interagency Study Team, 1992. National Park Service, Bozeman, Montana.
5.) University of Utah, (2019). The Shoshoni Language Project, Shoshoni Dictionary. (https://shoshoniproject.utah.edu/language-materials/shoshoni-dictionary/dictionary.php) Accessed June 10, 2019. Shoshoni Language Project, Salt Lake City, Utah. USA.
6.) Venefica, A., (2018). Native American Bear Meaning-Symbolic Wisdom from the Bear: What is your sign. (https://www.whats-your-sign.com/native-american-bear-meaning.html). Accessed June 10, 2019.
An Additional 10 Selected Natural Life Histories of Photographed Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Additional bears that have been photographed by the USGS Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, with some of their known life histories. Please note the information is a compilation of data included in annual summaries, and media sources available. Some of the bears listed are likely to still be alive in the ecosystem, while others may have been due to human-caused or natural mortality.
Photo Credits: all photos are courtesy of the USGS Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) with the exception of the photo of grizzly 475's remains, courtesy of Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks (MTFWP).
Taking the phrase “Roadside Bear” to another level: Asphalt Bear - The Journey of 863 through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
The journey of grizzly 863 begins in Muddy Creek, Shoshone National Forest (SNF). In 2015, as a recently booted 2-year-old subadult, 863 was captured July 25, for management purposes with her (potential) sibling, for repeated conflicts and habituation (frequenting developed areas). They both were transported to Bailey Creek, Bridger Teton National Forest (BTNF) (personal communication WYGF). Almost one year later, July 17, 2016, grizzly 863 was captured at Blackrock Creek, BTNF. She is currently radio collared. She was observed with no cubs during 2016. The following year in 2017, again, grizzly 863 at now 4-years-old, was observed with no cubs.
In 2019, she was first observed May 6 with 2-cubs-of-the-year (COY).
Many of the first observers were alarmed by 863’s actions and behavior. Initially, on May 6, 2019, she was observed rolling around in a fresh patch of asphalt on HWY 26. She was covered in the black tar like substance, and her young stood nearby, probably wondering if their mother bear was crazy. Oil and petroleum products, whether refined, or derivatives, attract grizzly bears. Fuel by itself is considered an attractant for bears.
Case: During a 15-year provincial project in Alberta, Andrea Morehouse, a wildlife biologist with the University of Alberta, came across an interesting observation. The goal of the project was to reduce spring incidents of grizzlies killing cattle. In an effort to alter and mitigate that behavior, roadkill were collected and dropped at remote locations. Morehouse wanted to document how many unique bears were using the remote carcass sites. At each remote location, roadkill would be positioned and then two trees near the area would be sprayed with WD-40 and wrapped in barb wire; WD-40 elicits a rub response from bears so they would come to the sites, eat and then rub on the trees.
It is likely that the combination of aliphatic hydrocarbons, petroleum bases/derivatives is what intrigues bears and elicits a behavioral (rub) response. This probably serves as the most likely reason that grizzly 863 was rolling in freshly patched asphalt. So to answer the cubs: no your mother bear is not crazy, just being a bear.
Roadside Bears: Habituation tolerance
Grizzly 863 has taken up a similar strategy that has been observed in many females with cubs: raising them in close proximity to the roadside. Now whether that is to provide security, we cannot prove; it is very much a double edged sword. Most bears observed near roads during spring are foraging on natural food sources. Late spring and early summer coincide with seasons when food productivity near roadways is rated higher than that further away from roadways (Mattson et al. 1987). All classes of bears use roadside habitats, not just classes which are subordinate or even security conscious (Haroldson & Gunther 2013). During mid-May, grizzly 863 was observed being pursued and chased by other bears. Shortly thereafter, she was observed with only one remaining cub.
It is important to understand that while bears may select roadside habitats during the spring because of their high productivity as opposed to habitat further away from roadways, it is not acceptable or appropriate for a grizzly or family group to linger in the roadway. The National Park Service since 1990, has instituted the bear management strategy of habituation tolerance. This strategy has been in place for nearly 30 years (1990-2019). The main priority of staff dispatched to bear jams, or roadside bear events, is to ensure public safety. This includes ensuring vehicles are parked legally, visitors are behaving in an appropriate manner, and not creating an unsafe or unpredictable situation by approaching, harassing or feeding bears present (Gunther et al. 2015).
It is important to consider the differences between national parks, national forests, and the surrounding adjacent communities. Each group does not manage wildlife (bears) in the same manner or have the same objectives. While the national parks between Yellowstone and Grand Teton have adopted the strategy of habituated tolerance, this strategy is not feasible in local communities and contrary to the missions or objectives set forth by other agencies.
Aversive Conditioning and Hazing as Management & Safety Tools
Hazing of bears in Yellowstone and other areas of the Greater Yellowstone comes in the form of bear deterrent round, thumper gun projectiles, sling shots, rocks, cracker shells, sirens, horns in an effort to temporarily move bears away from roadsides, human occupied areas, or where there is a bear-related safety concern.
Aversive conditioning is a form of learning which takes place when an animal is punished for an undesirable behavior. The goals of aversive conditioning are the following (Gunther 1994):
Specific guidelines have been established for when to use aversive conditioning which include (Gunther 1994):
The Take Home Message:
It is important to recognize the significance of roadside habitat for bears of all cohorts. However, we must respect that significance and allow for bears to behave in as much of a natural manner as possible, undisturbed by our actions. Our presence alone is something many bears such as 863, have grown to tolerate. We should not take their tolerance for granted; behavior is not a sound science, and grizzly bears are wild. Success breeds complacency; complacency breeds failure. Becoming complacent while viewing roadside bears is ultimately what may lead to the downfall of a nearly three decade old management strategy.
1.) Gunther, K. A. (1994). Bear management in Yellowstone National Park, 1960-93. Bears: their biology and management, 549-560.
2.) Gunther, K. A. (1994). Yellowstone National Park Bear Management Plan. National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park. pp. 66.
3.) Gunther, K. A., Wilmot, K. R., Cain, S. L., Wyman, T., Reinertson, E. G., Bramblett, A. M. (2015). Habituated grizzly bears: a natural response to increasing visitation in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Yellowstone Science, 23, 33-40.
4.) Haroldson, M.A., Gunther, K. A. (2013). Roadside bear viewing opportunities in Yellowstone National Park: characteristics, trends, and influence of whitebark pine. Ursus, 24(1), 27-42.
5.) Mattson, D. J., Knight, R. R., Blanchard, B. M., (1987). The effects of developments and primary roads on grizzly bear habitat use in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. International Conference on Bear Research and Management 7:259–273.
Tyler Brasington is a native born and raised Pennsylvanian, yet proud current Wisconsin resident. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Currently, Tyler is pursuing his masters in Natural Resources with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has worked in Yellowstone National Park under the guidance and supervision of Dr. George Clokey and Dr. Jim Halfpenny.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Interior, US Geological Survey, National Park Service or the United States Government.
The Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Project
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