"The Transplants": Two success stories of grizzly relocation with polar outcomes in Yellowstone National Park
In the world of large carnivore conservation and management, relocation is a management tool that is commonly utilized. Specifically, grizzly bears are just one of several species where relocation can be “hit-or-miss.”
In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), bears can be relocated for a variety of reasons which range from livestock depredations, aggression, habituation, food conditioning, property damage, human safety concerns, etc. When relocating bears, certain factors must be considered to increase the chances of a successful relocation including: habitat type, food availability and variety, elevation, density in release area. When relocating bears, distance from the capture site and the prevalence of geographic barriers such as mountains, canyons, lakes, should be maximized to the fullest extent (Gunther et al. 1994).
Grizzly bear relocations are extremely difficult, and have yielded extremely low success rates (Riley et al. 1994, Linnell et al. 1997, Clark et al. 2002, Milligan et al. 2018) most recently documented at approximately 30% (Milligan et al. 2018). Relocation fails for several reasons which include, but not limited to:
The age of the bear involved could very well influence the success of a relocation. Younger bears, or subadults, are more likely to take to a new area and establish a new home range as opposed to older bears (may use their innate homing ability to return to their original home range) (Jonkel 1993). Success with relocation is also largely dependent on where the bear is being released, and the distance from capture. Bears that captured and relocated earlier in the year (spring) and released into an area that presents a low mortality risk (little anthropogenic disturbances, roads, people, etc.) and in proximity to rivers or streams will increase relocation/translocation success (Milligan et al. 2018). Grizzlies possess a unique homing ability, which presents issues with relocation and translocation as an effective management tool. Homing often can lead to repeat conflict, including depredation, property damage or human conflict. Studies have demonstrated (Milligan et al. 2018, Blanchard et al. 1995) that return rates and homing are most influenced by the distance transported from capture. As opposed to previously reported data (Blanchard et al. 1995) bears should not be relocated any distance less than 100km, unless the management relocation was based on attractants which can either be managed or removed; distances of >200 km proved effective for inhibiting homing. Because of translocations’ lacking success, it should only be utilized as a short term solution and should be considered a final action to augment and correct a conflict situation (Blanchard et al. 1995, Milligan et al. 2018).
Habituated behavior demonstrated by bears is usually an indication of poor people management. It is important to realize that problem bears are not born, they are made. We as humans are largely involved in creating problem bears (attractants, etc.) (Jonkel 1993). The decision to ultimately remove, euthanize or kill a bear should be a last resort. Sometimes, bears that have been poorly managed or do not take to management action, will continue to cause problems, and will inevitably need to be removed (Jonkel 1993).
In 2015, Yellowstone Science released an edition focusing on “Grizzly Bear Recovery in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” Dr. Frank van Manen and Mark Haroldson of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) summarized the lives of two “patriarchs” with extensive and long study histories. The two bears were #155 and #281. What made both of these bears unique was their extensive life histories. Both were relocated to Yellowstone from outside of the National Park boundaries.
Grizzly 155: Life History
Grizzly bear 155 was born in 1986, the offspring of grizzly 156. On August 9, 1988, grizzly 155 was first captured for management purposes at Bitch Creek, Teton National Forest (TNF). During the following year, 1989, he was captured again on September 9th, at Leigh Creek, TNF for management purposes. He was relocated over 100 km to the north, to Blacktail Creek, Yellowstone National Park (YNP). In 1990, 155 would cast his collar. However, on October 16, 1991, 155 was captured on Grebe Lake Road for research purposes, again being radio collared. During 1992, 155’s collar failed. Grizzly 155 would not be captured and handled again until October 11, 2004; he was captured and again collared at Antelope Creek, YNP. The subsequent year, he would cast his collar. Six-years later, on September 2, 2011, grizzly 155 was captured at Otter Creek near Hayden Valley In YNP. He was re-collared at this time, and would wear this collar until 2014, when he cast his collar for the final time. Grizzly 155 was captured on October 6, 2014 at North Fork Bear Creek, Montana (MT) for management purposes. Grizzly 155 was removed due to property damage and obtaining food rewards. At the time of removal, 155 was 28 years old; the oldest bear that has ever been documented in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) lived to be 31. In this instance, relocation proved effective for a quarter of a century.
Grizzly 281: Life History
Grizzly bear 281 was born in 1992. On August 28, 1996, grizzly 281 was captured in Pinedale, Wyoming (WY) for management purposes. He was relocated to Otter Creek near Hayden Valley, YNP. During 1998, grizzly 281's collar failed. Two years later, 281 was captured at the Grebe Pit, near Cascade Creek, YNP; 281 was fitted with a new radio collar. That same year, 281 was captured an additional two times on October 10 and 11th at Norris, YNP, but was released and not handled (bears are often released and not handled if they are a recent recapture). On August 29, 2001, grizzly 281 was captured again at the Grebe Pit near Cascade Creek, YNP. He was re-collared during this capture. Similarly to the 2000 capture, just days after 281 had been trapped, he was captured again at the Grebe Pit near Cascade Creek, YNP on August 31st. He was released without being handled. Later that year, he would cast his collar. On September 23, 2002, he was again fitted with a new collar after being captured in Norris, YNP. During the subsequent year, 2003, 281 cast his collar. He was captured on September 9, 2003 at Cascade Creek, YNP; he was not collared and was released without handling. Two years later, 281 was captured at Cascade Creek, YNP, however, again he was not collared and was released without handling. Grizzly 281 would not be captured again for another six years. During 2011, grizzly 281 was first captured September 4, 2011 and was collared. That same year, 281 was recaptured an additional five times:
In 2013, grizzly 281 would cast his collar. After casting his collar, grizzly 281 was captured twice during 2013 at the Grebe Pit, near Cascade Creek, YNP (June 23, 2013 and June 26, 2013). During the first capture, he was fitted with a new radio collar; during his second capture he was released without handling. After a life of extensive monitoring, grizzly 281 died on June 4, 2014 at the age of 22 near Mud Volcano, YNP. After examination, it was apparent that 281 died of natural causes, old age, and from wounds inflicted from fighting with other bears. During his life, 281 was captured 17 times (handled only 6 times, 11 times released without handling).
Photo: In 1931, park officials in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) began to document and keep detailed records of human-bear conflict and injury, property damage. A shift in bear management took place, following the tragic death of Martha Hansen. On August 23, 1942 at the Old Faithful Campground, she was walking between her cabin and the outhouse when she was attacked and killed by a bear. Photo Credit: R.Robinson/NPS
In focus: Grizzly #59
Life History: Grizzly #59 was born in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) during 1978. Her lineage is unknown. The Bear Management Office would first incidentally capture #59 on July 24, 1980 near Canyon, YNP as a non-target capture (management). She, however, was still relocated to Shelf Lake, YNP. One year later, the Bear Management Office captured #59, again, in Canyon, YNP for management purposes. She was relocated to Death Ridge, YNP. In 1983, her collar failed. Grizzly 59 was captured again for research purposes by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) on June 16, 1984 at Antelope Creek, YNP. That year, she was observed with two cubs-of-the-year (COY). A little more than a month later, grizzly 59 was captured again, on July 5, 1984 at Antelope Creek, YNP. During 1985, her collar would fail again. In 1985, she was also observed with no offspring, suggesting that she lost her cubs. The following year would mark the beginning of the end for grizzly #59. On September 4, 1986, she was captured in Canyon, YNP and relocated to Cub Creek, YNP for management purposes. She was accompanied by two COY at the time of her relocation. However, after arriving at Cub Creek, grizzly 59 would be observed with no offspring. In 33 days, grizzly #59 would travel westward towards Hayden Valley, YNP where she would meet her demise. On October 7th, 1986, a photographer approached grizzly #59 too closely in Hayden Valley, YNP; the bear attacked and killed the photographer. Grizzly #59 was removed at Otter Creek, YNP for her role in the human-fatality. At the time, this marked the fifth documented fatality in Yellowstone since 1916.
Relocation, Removal and Management Techniques:
The relocation of bears is generally used as a management technique to temporarily resolve bear/human conflict. Relocation in various aspects, has proved to be ineffective.
Specific guidelines have been establish by Yellowstone National Park in determining when relocation is warranted. The decision to relocate a bear must be coordinated and discussed with the Bear Management Committee. Non-target captures or bears unintentionally captured during relocation efforts will be released and not relocated. The following criteria need to be evaluated when deciding to relocate a bear:
Bears may be released or relocated outside of the park with collaboration and consultation with appropriate authorities and agencies. Additionally, bears may also be relocated from outside areas to inside Yellowstone, but only after consultation with appropriate parties.
To enhance the chances of successful relocation, habitat type, foods and food availability, elevation and density of bears in an area are all taken into consideration prior to relocation efforts.
Removal of Nuisance Bears
The guidelines as established for relocation still apply to the removal of nuisance bears. However, procedures for the removal of nuisance bears is, as follows:
Hazing of bears in 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:
Specific guidelines have been established for when to use aversive conditioning which include:
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. pp66.
Photo: Grizzly bear #533, pictured with her three, 3-year-old cubs after emerging from her den during 2008. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team has only been privileged to documented two radio-collared females, whose cubs accompanied them for a third year. Typically, cubs will separate from their mothers in the spring when they become 2-year-olds. This image was capture by Steve Ard during an aerial flight over Cougar Flats, in Yellowstone National Park, May 1, 2008.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) has been radio-marking and monitoring grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) since 1975. Over the several decades of monitoring, there have been various aspects of grizzly bear ecology and biology which prove to be increasingly rare. Since 1975, the team has collared and monitored 900+ unique grizzly bears. One of the rarities that has been documented only twice since 1975 in radio-marked bears, is cubs accompanying a female for a span of longer than two-years.
Typically, grizzly bear females will separate from their cubs when they are two-years of age, generally in the spring. During this time, males bears actively seek out a female companion sometimes pressuring the separation of cubs from their mothers, inducing the female into estrus.
Another somewhat related phenomenon which actively plays a role in reproductive ecology, is sexually selected infanticide or referred to as SSI. In Yellowstone and the GYE, this has been documented on various occasions. This process is a reproductive strategy utilized among brown and black bears throughout North America, not only endemic to the GYE. It involves a dominant male being removed, or inaccessible during mating. This allows for a new subordinate male to enter the picture. The subordinate male will kill newly born cubs, or sometimes yearlings sired by the now absent dominant male. The female will then be induced into estrus, allowing her to breed earlier.
Grizzly bears have the lowest reproductive rates among terrestrial mammals. Generally speaking, a sexually mature female can have litters of cubs about every 2 ½ years. However, those females that retain their offspring for additional seasons throw a curveball into the picture. There are benefits for the offspring, but not so much for the female.
During 2008, the IGBST identified a radio-marked female, who had kept her cubs until they were 3-years-old. Grizzly #533 was one of the few radio-marked females that the study team had recorded in nearly three decades of research, to have her offspring accompany her an additional year. More recently, an unmarked sow grizzly frequenting the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, was also documented with a cub that accompanied her for the same duration of three-years. Based on the frequency of this phenomenon over the decades, it appears to be a rare occurrence. However, this behavior (anecdotal) seems to have become more common in the past several years (more sightings of unmarked grizzly females accompanied by subadult offspring).
Additional Information: Grizzly #533 was first captured on July 29, 2006 at Cold Springs, in Caribou Targhee National Forest (CTNF) at 14 years-old. She was fitted with a radio-collar and at the time, was unaccompanied by any offspring that year. However, during 2007, the IGBST observed 533 with three 2-year-old cubs; again accompanied by three 3-year-old cubs in 2008 at Cougar Flats in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). The following year, 2009, she was documented and observed with three cubs-of-the-year (COY).
On June 28, 2009, grizzly #533 had a run in with hunters. Shots were fired, but she managed to escape unscathed. DNA evidence later confirmed that she and her COY were involved in the incident.
In 2010, #533 was observed with two of three cubs remaining (yearlings). In 2011, she was not observed with any cubs, and she later cast her collar. In 2012, she was captured at Moonshine Mountain, CTNF and collared again. That year, she was unaccompanied by any cubs. During 2013, it would prove to be a similar repeat of 2009. Grizzly #533 was surprised from her day bed by a researcher during July 2009. She proceeded to attack the researcher, later running away from the scene.
Later that summer, grizzly 533 was killed. She was documented as a mortality in the 2013 IGBST Annual Report as:
Unique ID: 201320
Cause: Human-caused. Under investigation.
Grizzly #533 was 21 years-old at the time of her death.
What is your favorite memory involving grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park? Do have a favorite place to observe bears? Listed below are some of the favorite memories of viewing grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park:
Becky Benson: Watching Scarface come walking down Dunraven Pass!
Karen Gates Enderson: Too many to name BUT....2015, Hayden Valley watched a sow with twin COY on a bison carcass. 1st thing in the morning, rangers weren't even there yet.
Lwren Chandler: RASPBERRY AND SNOW
Cindy Jessup Todd: Watching Snow and Raspberry the last week they were together and watching the week after as Snow was learning to be on her own and Raspberry was hopefully more grizzlies
Julie Blackwood: Have never had the pleasure of seeing a grizzly - but have only been there a few times. I just moved much closer so I'm looking forward to seeing the areas I might spot one!
Leslie Colin Tribble: Raspberry as a sub-adult. Felt like I watched her grow up as the years went by. Then was privileged early one morning to see her mating with a big boar. next spring on East Gate opening day I watched her with Snow and her twin foraging along the Lake Butte overlook road, right next to my car. She's been an amazing bear.
Don Meyer: 08, I watched 2 grizz try to hold off 5 wolves from a kill... a lot of action but the bears were finally pushed from it,
Brad Davis: Lamar Valley
Marie Jenson: Every time I see one. They are all different and amazing!
Kevin Moser: A steaming pile on a trail but where did he go?
Kevin Barlow: Raspberry and her boyfriend this Summer was the closest most amazing interaction to date. Another amazing memory for me was about 10 years ago watching a sow nurse 3 COY in the first morning light. I was all alone in Hayden Valley!
Cindy R Crotty Happel: Probably this past June just below the Lake Butte overlook when a large Male came running down the ridge toward road we were parked by and walk right by our vehicle.
Teri Kroll: Will not share any grizzly locations!
Pam Little: Watching "Scarface" at the Confluence of Lamar and Soda Butte. He stopped in his wandering to scratch his back on a cottonwood.
Carolyn Golba: Watching grizzly 059 and her 2 cubs. They were the first grizzlies I ever saw in Yellowstone.
Linda Rudge Carney: Lake Butte area!
Carol Bittner: Lake Butte Point
Richard P Berger: June of 2012 had one of Quad Ma's cubs get up on the front of my car and play with the hood ornament.
Patty MacLeod McLean: Up and beyond the steep hill, a ways outside Mammoth-looking toward Electric Peak
Deb Witt: Seeing Scarface nosh on roots in a quiet place near Canyon. Miss the old guy.
Eugene Kiedrowski: I moved to Yellowstone and began work on March 1st, 2010, the Park's 138th anniversary. On one of my first work trips into the interior when the roads had been plowed that Spring, we happened across this Grizzly sow and twin cubs near North Twin Lake. I believe this is 815 and her first set of cubs, I'm not sure but want to believe it's so. She was very small for a grizzly sow with cubs and so She was nicknamed Mini-Mom at the time. To this day we find her first in the Spring somewhere along Obsidian Creek and I hope in 2019's Spring we will see Her and a new set of cubs. This is but one of many, many experiences with bears but it's special being the first for me when I began my new life here.
Abbigale Alder: The very first time I saw a grizzly- seven years ago- it was Scarface. Didn't know who he was at the time, but I remember thinking what a handsome old man he was. I've been hooked ever since.
Terry Lim: The very first encounter of my life was on Friday, August 31, 2018 on the Bighorn Pass Trail- sow and two cubs. We (my husband, our guide & I) were on horseback and the bears blocked the trail. Needless to say we didn't make it all the way to the pass that day, but seeing our first grizz more than made up for it!
Valerie Hall: I have only seen one and it was a spot on the hillside just before the north entrance. Made my entire 39 years on earth worth it.
Paul Roberts: On a one week visit we seen 39 sightings of grizzly, spring or fall best time and less people!
Benny Hickerson: First trip to Yellowstone in the 90s, saw one, so excited! At least one or more every trip since. Most exciting was last year, daughter and family went with us, first trip there, son-in-law really wanting to see bears. All the disclaimers about no guarantee, etc. First day out, 7 bears in GTNP before we even got to Yellowstone! Total for trip: 6 moose, 11 bears, plus everything else. Very happy family!
Ken Stone: Favorite viewing was watching the Hayden Sow and her two cubs swim the Yellowstone River two or three years ago. I don’t think she has been seen since that summer.
Rick Larson: Probably one of the most intense moments was photographing two different Grizzlies on these carcasses just across the river by LeHardy Rapids 2015
Glenna Gunter: The first time I saw one, near Elk Antler Creek, on a hillside, in the snow. Mama and cub playing.
Mara Owens: First encounter was in ‘71, while backcountry hiking in to camp and saw a Grizzly sow with two cubs in the distance. She was aware of us and appeared nonplussed with the proximity to our tent site. Pretty amazing. We used bells on our packs, haul bags for our food & gear, as well as bear spray with us. We saw a great variety of wildlife that trip. Decades later on another trip staying in Gardiner, we saw Grizzly eating a dead elk or buffalo carcass with wolves pacing nearby, along with ravens waiting their turn.
Gary and Tita Tucker: May 2017 we saw this mom and two cubs close to Old Faithful and watched the cubs putting on a show while keeping an eye on all the people watching them. Mom didn’t seem to be too worried about it. We were at a safe distance and I cropped the photo so it actually looks a lot closer than it was.
Rick Partlow: May of 2014, multiple bison carcasses at LeHardy Rapids and I saw seven grizzlies in one day, including a fight between a couple of them.
Charlotte Woods Burns: Mama and 2 cubs. Near Madison Junction 2008.
Vicki Fancher: several years ago we had a heard there was a big bull moose up by petrified tree area…got there, so many cars I dropped my son off by what looked like a berm. Parked then when I walked back I saw him with the biggest smile. Got up next to him and there was a huge grizzly playing with dead trees like they were toothpicks. Bear was laying on his back with tree in his paws and he was just twirling them around. Since we were the only ones watching from our viewpoint we decided it might be best to join the heard of tourists. When we got there, the bear was showing off for all to see, taking trees in his paws or mouth, seemed like he was prancing for us. Of course the dumb tourists had to get closer so the ranger asked my son to help him control the crowd. Such a special day.
Marion Dickinson: My favorite spot is anywhere I see one
John Caloia: having Scarface cross the Yellowstone River and climb out and walk off towards Mary Mountain/Alum Creek area. He was pretty close to me but he paid no attention to me as there were hundreds of others around. I am sure I could run faster than 1 of the people there.
Patty Mason: We saw one Grizzly Bear from quite a distance in Hayden Valley 9/18
Linda Joy Slagowski: Seeing Scarface up on Dunraven. I'll never forget him.
Linda Stageberg Petry: I also saw Scarface on Dunraven in 2009. We saw him dig up a ground squirrel and make a snack out of it.
Carol Bittner: My first several sightings of Raspberry with her new Cubs Rocky and Snow. Pure magic.
Every sighting since then of Raspberry and Snow including the one a couple weeks ago. While they have parted company they were still within a quarter mile of each other. I am grateful for every joy filled minute watching them. I look forward to their 2019 return.
Amy Halsey: Having been blessed by being able to work in the park for years and then live not far from it, I have so many wonderful memories involving grizzly bears. Here are just a few: 1) Watching a sow grizzly graze on a hillside while her two cubs played with a buffalo pie, chasing it down a hill and rolling the rest of the way - for about a half an hour. 2) As a naturalist, letting visitors watch (through a scope) a grizzly play with a fish like a cat plays with a mouse and getting to hear and see how excited they were. 3) Getting charged by a grizz at Clear Creek at the park biologists' fish traps as we came up in a canoe. 4) Summer of '82 - getting to see a grizzly hang out at Mary Bay off and on all summer (I still wonder if she was Blaze's mom) 5) The summer that wolves were reintroduced - watching a sow and cubs come upon a wolf pack, charging them and getting charged back - they all seemed quite surprised. 6) Watching grizzlies and wolves feeding on a carcass at Lamar 7) Getting to see 755, his daughter and a grizz taking turns chasing each other off a carcass. 8) Finally getting to see Raspberry and getting halfway decent photos of her. My wish is to now get to see COY next spring and maybe seeing Snow.
Des N Shirley Peadon: We share your thoughts Carol, having also seen both of these magnificent bears up close in 2017 and again in May this year. I shall find a couple of photos and post them on here.
Des N Shirley Peadon: Raspberry and Snow up on the Sylvan Pass during September 2017
Carol Bittner: They had stayed close to Nine Mile and Lake Butte Point everytime I saw them this Summer. I drove up the day snow was kicked out found her on a ridge headed towards Lake Butte point.
They were at Sedge Creek and Sedge Bay.
I am very thankful for the protection the Rangers have provided. For the professional photographers who follow them.
And most of all the reversal of delisting. That they may return to educate and thrill Bear lovers for another season.
I live in Cody.
Huge numbers of Bears have been killed in Park County this year.
Des N Shirley Peadon: ...also back in May this year, we came upon a female bear with her two yearling Cubs. Shirley and myself were the first to spot them, feeding along the Shoshoni river along the Northfork a few miles east of Pahaska. Several other people joined us. While we were there, the two yearlings started to play fight and we managed to get some cracking photos and video.
A few I am posting below.
Unfortunately, we have been told only recently by a good friend, that these three bears were among the bears you mentioned that have recently been killed by F an G !
Carol Bittner: Bless Baby Bears. Such a fun source of entertainment. Always a pleasure and privilege to watch them.
Tonya Wood Boyte: In 2010 we got to watch a grizzle chase some buffalo. It didn't catch them and ended up crossing the road right in front of us. I don't know which one it was but we were so excited to watch.
I have two. The first was watching the Wapiti sow and her two cubs right before she got in trouble the second time and was killed, not knowing these 2 beautiful cubs would only be wild and free for a very short time. The second was watching Scarface take a carcass from the Wapiti wolves, only to have another big griz take it from him, not knowing it would be the last time I saw him.
Dianne Hunter: End of September, 4 miles in-Pelican Valley, spotted a grizzly!
Susan Stevens: We'd tried for years to find bears in Yellowstone. Finally, in 2010 we hit the jackpot. We had one big grizzly cross the road right by us out at Slough Creek. Then we had this grizzly and her two cubs on Mount Washburn. Taken safely from the passenger window of my car as we drove by.
Susan Stevens: Then this May we were out in Lamar Valley (my favorite place to find grizzlies). I don't have the fancy equipment that many of the regular photographers do, but was lucky enough to have just pulled up to a parking place when this guy moved that direction. I was taking this one from over the hood of my car, standing right by the driver's side door in case he got any closer.
Des N Shirley Peadon: We also saw these same bears on three other occasions during May.
Kim Spurlock Bennett: While looking for wolves in Hayden Valley...we parked along the road and walked out into a meadow. It was foggy but we could see a grizzly bear in the valley, out in the distance (at that time...she was called Valley Girl). There was a large group of us...at least 10-12 people. We had plenty of bear spray. The fog dropped and we lost sight of her. When the fog lifted...there she was...coming up the hill toward us. We all picked up scopes & cameras and headed toward the road where our cars were parked. Cars started stopping along the road and one person yelled out to us "she is behind you and starting to run"! We picked up the pace...but didn't run...just walked as quickly as we could. We all got to the road...I jumped into the backseat of a pick-up truck that stopped in the road. My husband didn't have a chance to get in...he moved toward the front bumper of the pick up truck as the grizzly bear crossed the road at the rear bumper of the pick-up truck. Looking back on it...there was such a large group of us...we probably could have huddled together and gotten over to the side of the meadow...she just wanted to cross the road. That was in September 2015...we have never seen her again and have often wondered what happened to her.
Chris Hartzell: I don't know where this article is showing, but with today's disrespectful tourists and overwhelming numbers trying to find wildlife, I find it in the best interest of everyone not to publicize locations of key animal species.
Natalie T. Bergholz: OOPS Tyler Brasington. I just saw this post
For me every wildlife sighting is a gift!
We humans can learn a lot from wildlife!
ME: My favorite place to watch grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park is Lamar Valley. I have had several favorite and memorable experiences. I will share only one...
I was working in Grand Teton National Park. I had been working in Moran Junction that day and just got off work. Over the course of the day I had heard radio communication indicating that grizzly 399 had been in the Two Ocean/Pacific Creek area earlier in the day. I went over to the culvert area to meet up with a few friends and look around, and low and behold, I had my back turned to the road, and 399 with her two cubs emerged from the shoulder high shrubs and flanked me. I turned around, and realized how close she was to me. The bear had a very blank look on her face when she made eye contact with me, and just kept moving. Me on the other hand, I was just a little startled and excited. Once a car came driving by, and a bear jam ensued. Even though I wasn't on the clock, I was glad to help assist the wildlife brigade in managing the jam. An amazing close experience.
Photo: Grizzly #663 (previous referred to as: F01) pictured cresting a hill in the Little America area near Junction Butte in Yellowstone National Park during late summer 2016. At this point in time, she was accompanied by her lone surviving male cub from her initial litter of three. Photo credit: Copyright Jort Vanderveen 2016, "Jort The Yellowstone Guide" https://www.facebook.com/jort.me/
Over the past several years, one grizzly family has stood out more than the rest: the Junction Butte sow. What made her stand out? Well, sadly, her inability to be a good mother, and provide security to her cubs.
Unbeknownst to many, several years ago this sow was collared, and tagged. Only recently were we able to uncover her potential identity.
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 2018, grizzly 663 is 14 years old.
Photo: Taken 5/22/16. Notice the great distance between sow #663 (top of the frame) and her two cubs-of-the-year (COY) bottom of the frame. This behavior was observed frequently during 2016. Anecdotally, we believe this behavior contributed to the loss of her 2nd cub during 2016. #663 remained accompanied by her one remaining male cub through 2016, 2017 and weaned the cub during the spring of 2018. Photo credit: Tyler Brasington 2016
We were able to identify 663 from the following information:
You may ask “how could you identify 663 after she lost her collar?” The distinguishing features of 663 include her unique facial scarring. 663 has several scars displayed on her face, which include a “C” slash across the bridge of her snout, and a horizontal “joker” scar on the right side of her face/mouth region. These scars were first documented during 2012. After she dropped her collar, we have been able to identify her based on this distinct markings.
Since 2016 when I first began monitoring her movements, grizzly 663’s primary home range is approximately 60km2. Best available science suggests that she has yielded two litters of cubs during her lifetime (2013 w/ 2 COY – both deceased; 2016 w/ 3 COY – 2 deceased, 1 survived & weaned at 2 years old). Some have given her the title of “the bad mom” due to her leniency, allowing her cubs to wander away hundreds of yards away from her direct supervision. Undoubtedly, 663 over the past three years has been one of the more observable and visible females with cubs in the Little America, Lamar Valley area the past several years. Many visitors have been granted the opportunity to watch and observe this grizzly and her cub in their wild home, of Yellowstone National Park. We can hope that 2019 will bring her new cubs!
A special thanks to Jort Vanderveen (Jort The Yellowstone Guide), Matt Proctor, and Rick Partlow for the use of their images for research and identification purposes.
During 2015 while in the backcountry in and around Glacier National Park, I had several documented encounters with grizzlies of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). One grizzly I came across, was not even 3 miles from the Canadian border. At some point in this bears life, it most likely crossed the border between Canada and the United States, completely un-phased and without care. In their world, a grizzly is a grizzly; they know no borders or boundaries!
The first successfully radio instrumented grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Grizzly No. 40 or called "Marian" by John & Frank Craighead. The bear was named after the engineers' wife who designed the collar transmitter.
The Craighead brothers were the pioneers of grizzly bear research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Their successful implementation and deployment of radio collars on grizzly bears revolutionized the ability to track free roaming populations of animals in the wild.
Photo credit: Frank & John Craighead
Example In the spotlight- Grizzly 781: During 2006, grizzly 781 was born in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). On June 11, 2009, at three-years old, 781 was captured, near Deadman Creek in the Shoshone National Forest (SNF). Grizzly 781 was not collared during this capture. Five-years would pass until he would again be captured, this time for management purposes. Unfortunately, the bear found himself in a far too common predicament: livestock depredation. Nearly 90 miles away from where he was initially captured in 2009, Grizzly 781 was the culprit of a cow mortality near Red Lodge, MT. He was captured and collared at Grove Creek, MT by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and U.S. Department of Agriculture - Wildlife Services on July 15, 2014. He was relocated and released near Lodgepole Creek, MT near the Gallatin Range. Grizzly 781 cast his collar in September 2014 in the Gallatin National Forest. In 2018, grizzly 781 would be 12 years-old.
The real question is: How can we prevent livestock depredation and avoid unnecessary grizzly bear mortality related to livestock grazing operations? What can we learn from grizzly 781 and other bears involved in livestock depredation?
Livestock Conflict and Mortality: “Identifying the locations and causes of grizzly bear mortality is another key component in understanding the dynamics of this population. Over 80% of all documented bear mortalities are human-caused. Tracking human-caused bear deaths helps define patterns and trends that can direct management programs designed to reduce bear mortality.” – Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST)
Between the years 2012 and 2016, a total of 459 livestock conflicts with grizzly bears were documented and related to commercial livestock grazing on federal lands in the GYE. During these years, 22 of the 459 conflicts on federal lands resulted in grizzly bear mortality, which means 5% of these conflicts proved to be fatal for the bear involved. Over the 4-year span, the IGBST recorded a total 232 mortalities from all causes (natural, roadkill, defense of life and property, livestock conflict & depredation, etc.) Livestock related mortalities related to commercial livestock grazing on federal lands account for 9% of total mortality during 2012-2016.
With over 80% of all documented mortalities resulting from us humans, it is important to find potential ways to mitigate and avoid grizzly bear conflict. Whether that is the deployment or implementation of electric fences, range riders, or even the easy implementation of bear spray for hunters and recreationalists, finding areas where mortality can be reduced is important.
Livestock grazing operations have several options to prevent depredation or conflict with grizzly bears. In operations where rearing may occur, animals that give birth, must be securely confined, housed, and protected to reduce risk of bear attraction. The removal of all afterbirth and carcass materials is especially important. Electric barriers around confined livestock units are strongly encouraged for deterring bears. Fencing is an important component while protecting livestock. The implementation of electric wires into fencing is very effective at deterring bears. Electric fences should be composed of 9 wires and begin approximately 4 inches from the ground (Dohner, J. V., 2017). "Range riding" is another potential alternative to providing security to free-ranging livestock. Deceased cattle and livestock also serve as an attractant for grizzly bears. It is important for commercial livestock owners and operators to regularly remove or relocate any carcasses from areas containing "active" healthy livestock, to reduce the risk of depredation. In eligible counties within Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Defenders of Wildlife will compensate 50% of the cost for electric fencing to prevent grizzly bear access to livestock, attractants (garbage, orchards, beehives).
One important piece of information: notice on the map (Fig.1) the location of mortalities. During 2012-2016, 19 of 22 mortalities related to commercial livestock grazing on federal lands were located within a 15-mile radius of one another (near Wind River Range). A possible management consideration going into the future would be providing incentives for commercial livestock owners and agricultural operations who take precautionary and recommended measures to secure livestock and livestock attractants (grain, feed, etc.)
Monitoring grizzly mortality and its origins are extremely important. Once a threatened species, protected under the endangered species act enforced by US Fish and Wildlife, killing a grizzly bear was prosecutable under federal law. In instances as these, US Fish and Wildlife was the responsible agency in investigating and prosecuting perpetrators responsible for unnecessary grizzly bear mortality. Still, post-delisting from these protections, state wildlife agencies such as Wyoming Game & Fish, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Idaho Fish and Game are now the responsible agencies for enforcing incidental or illegal harvest outside of the current proposed hunting period.
---Dohner, J. V. (2017). The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators: Protect Your Livestock, Poultry, and Pets; Identify the Tracks and Signs of More Than 30 Predators; Learn about Each Predator's Traits and Behaviors. Storey Publishing.
---Haroldson, M.A., Dickinson, C., Bjornlie, D.D. (2015). Bear Monitoring and Population Trend. Pages 5-11 in F.T. van Manen, M.A. Haroldson, and S.C. Soileau, editors. Yellowstone grizzly bear investigations: annual report of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, 2014. U.S. Geological Survey, Bozeman, Montana, USA.
---Grizzly Bear Habitat Modeling Team. (2017). 2016 Grizzly Bear Habitat Monitoring Report. Appendix A. Pages 95–117 in F. T. van Manen, M. A. Haroldson, and B. E. Karabensh, editors. Yellowstone grizzly bear investigations: annual report of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, 2016. U.S. Geological Survey, Bozeman, Montana, USA.
Yellowstone National Park is comprised of 3,472 mi2 (8991 km2), or 2,221,766 acres. The park’s boundaries lie 96% in the state of Wyoming, 3% in Montana and 1% in Idaho. Yellowstone has five park entrances, leading to 466 miles of road (310 miles paved). Less than 1% of Yellowstone’s landscape is covered by roads. In Yellowstone, there are approximately 150 (conservative) grizzly bears whose home ranges are completely, or partially inside of the park.
Some areas of the park, roadways run through highly desired and preferred grizzly bear habitat. Some bears become habituated to human-presence by hanging along the roadsides. Habituation can be defined as when bears become accustomed and experience no threat from human activity consistently and frequently, they begin to expect the same pattern time and time again, and react with very little response (Knight and Cole 1995). Habituation is not always a terrible thing, especially with grizzly bears. Habituation will allow bears to use areas with high human presence and activity, which has been demonstrated to increase habitat effectiveness (Herrero et al. 2005). In Yellowstone, this sort of behavior is commonly observed, where some wildlife, and bears may be subject to seeing thousands, if not millions of visitors each year and over the course of their lifetime. In this sort of environment, bears will adapt and acclimate to the presence and activities of visitors if seen at a great enough frequency. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park’s beginning in the 1990’s shifted their focus from managing the bears, to managing the people. Instead of trapping, relocating, and hazing bears, park staff began to ensure that visitors were in compliance at bear jams and exhibiting predictable behavior. This strategy has been in place for 25 years (1990-2014) (Gunther et al. 2015). Over the past quarter century, both Yellowstone and Grand Teton have experience increasing levels of bear habituation in roadside habitats, leading to an increase in “bear-jams” (Haroldson & Gunther 2013).
However, while habituation allows an increase in habitat effectiveness and allows for satisfying visitor experience, it does create a dangerous and unbeknownst situation for the wildlife, a double-edged sword. Bears and cars don’t mix typically. If bears become habituated, it can pose a risk for vehicle accidents. Habituation may not always be the case for grizzly presence near the roadways. Transient bears may use the roadways as a travel corridor, or even crossing to get from place to place. Sometimes after emerging from hibernation, bears may use the roads in an effort to conserve energy expenditure when snow is still deep (same with other wildlife such as bison).
Between 2009 and 2018, 25 grizzly bears were documented road-kill mortalities by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Of the 25 bears, 19 were male, 5 were female and 1 was unknown; 11 were subadults, 4 were yearlings, 3 cubs-of-the-year (COY), 6 adults, and 1 unknown. In Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) 4 grizzlies were documented and in Yellowstone National Park 4 grizzlies were documented. Outside of the national parks, 8 grizzlies were documented roadkill mortalities in Montana, 8 in Wyoming and 1 in Idaho. The IGBST reports that 80% of grizzly bear mortalities are human-caused. This includes but not limited to: roadkill, natural death, defense of life and property (DLP), hunting, mistaken identity (black bear hunt). From 2009 until 2018, 429 grizzlies have been documented mortalities, of which roadkill mortality accounts for approximately 6%. The other 94% consist of DLP, natural, hunting, mistaken identity. As visitation increases, it is likely (anecdotal) that roadkill mortalities may increase. More grizzlies on average are killed every year as a result of self-defense while hunting than motor vehicle accidents; this was the case between 2009-2018 (IGBST Annual Morality Reports 2009-2018)
Ultimately, roadkill mortalities do not always fall back on motor vehicle operators. Instances have occurred, where a motor vehicle operator was doing everything correctly, and a bear darted in front of their vehicle. In rare cases, bears have even timed their crossing incorrectly and run into vehicles. Between 1989 and 1999, it was found that bears (grizzlies and black bears) were killed on roads with higher speed limits (Gunther & Biel 1999). It is important to note that it is not always the fault of the vehicle operator. While unfortunate, sometimes bears are unpredictable, and run across the roadway from thick brush or timber, allowing for little time to react. Chastising visitors involved in accidents which are out of their control is irresponsible. Focusing on inattentive and negligent operation of motor vehicles is a more beneficial initiative. Striking and killing a grizzly bear in YNP is rare, though, this does not mean it cannot happen.
Another important consideration: not all bears struck and hit by vehicles die. It is a poor assumption that all bears involved in motor vehicle accidents perish. In recent years, bears have been struck by vehicles, later running off into the wilderness with minimal notable or documented injuries.
Ex: 2002 -> grizzly bear #125, accompanied by 2 COY, was struck by a vehicle just north of Canyon Junction in YNP, causing her collar to drop; the severity of her injuries was unknown at the time. Four years later in 2006, she was alive and well, captured and collared again at Antelope Creek in YNP.
2010 -> Mary Mountain Trailhead, Hayden Valley, YNP: a female grizzly with 3 cubs was struck during late May; Bear Management closed Mary Mountain Trail temporarily and investigated, but found no signs of a mortality.
Ultimately, when traveling on roads in YNP and GTNP, be conscientious of your surroundings. Sometimes, the beauty of the landscape, or even nearby wildlife may blind us from focusing our attention on the road while driving. Sometimes, we may occasionally find ourselves speeding. Ultimately, it is the role and responsibility of every visitor and motor vehicle operator to maintain complete control of your vehicle at all times. It is also your responsibility to inform park officials, or local fish & game authorities of wildlife/vehicle injuries and related accidents.
Grizzly #427: Not many people are familiar with grizzly #427 in Yellowstone National Park. #427 calls south and central Yellowstone his home. Frequently throughout his life, he has been observed on various spawning streams surrounding Yellowstone Lake. He has been dubbed the infamous “Preacher Bear.” Few visitors have been given the opportunity to watch #427 in action as he fishes for Cutthroat Trout in Little Thumb Creek, or Arnica Creek. No matter the case, when #427 does emerge as a ‘ghost’ from the wilderness, he doesn’t disappoint. In past years, others have watched him furiously attempt to break through thick ice near Bluff Point, or even rip through an old overwintered carcass near Old Faithful.
We really only have a little snapshot of #427 life, and that was by pure accident. He was suspected to be a possible nuisance bear in the Bridge Bay Campground area in Lake District, and was captured for management purposes on June 16, 2003 at 6 years-old. At the time he was captured, he was fitted with a radio collar, relocated, and later released. On September 22, 2003, he was captured at Arnica Creek, YNP. In 2005, #427 cast his collar. He would not be collared again until June 21, 2016, when he was captured at Flat Mountain Arm and fitted with a new radio collar. As of 2018, #427 is currently 21 years-old. Most bears in Yellowstone live to be 25-30 years old.
Figure 2: Known life history and range of grizzly #427 in Yellowstone National Park between 2003 and 2017. This map depicts areas where #427 has been captured and areas where visitors have submitted credible observations. The area highlighted and filled green is the area where 95%+ observations of #427 have been documented since 2003. The area highlighted in orange represents the area where #427 has been observed but infrequently. Grizzly #427 could use this area, but the exact use of this area is unknown unless referring to Iridium GPS data from 2016-present. Only visual observations from visitors during 2015-2017 are noted on this figure. This figure is not a representation of actual home range. A minimum convex polygon (MCP) would estimate #427 range approximately ~480 km2 between 2003-2017.
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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