WyoFile by Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
Grizzly 1057 — the subadult offspring of famous grizzly mother 399 that wildlife officials killed last month — had eschewed its natural habitat and boldly sought human food as taught, a top wildlife official said.
Grizzly 1057 left Jackson Hole earlier this year after being weaned by its mother. It wandered some 35 miles to the Upper Green River Valley by early July when residents began to see it frequenting rural neighborhoods.
As it sought out its own territory to stake out a life, 1057 passed thousands of acres of backcountry and wilderness on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
“That bear dispersed through a ton of great bear habitat kind of through the Gros Ventre [Range] — Upper Green country,” said Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore supervisor. “And then once it got into some human-occupied areas, it just started going from house to house.”
“[O]nce it got into some human-occupied areas, it just started going from house to house.”Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Grizzly 1057 raided unsecured attractants among residences in the Kendall Valley of the Upper Green River, he said. Officials caught the bear in mid-July and killed it after it displayed “increasingly dangerous behavior” like climbing onto porches and showing no fear of the sound of gunfire.
Among the homes it frequented in Sublette County was one site that included what one neighbor described as a carcass dump, possibly including road-killed animals. Thompson referred to “one situation [involving] a lot of different types of attractant, basically.
“I don’t know that it was specific to road kills,” he told WyoFile about the site. “We worked pretty hard to get rid of [it].
“I don’t think it was drawn there for any reason,” he said of 1057. “There was nobody purposefully feeding the bear.”
A spokesman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said his agency is on the case.
“We have had staff in the area working with some of the residents to educate them on potential food conflicts with bears,” spokesman Joe Szuszwalak wrote WyoFile in an email. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife does not have an investigation open at this time.”
Thompson outlined the reasons for the decision to kill 1057. “Most of the scenarios, a majority of it, was this particular bear actively seeking food at residences,” he said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service cited “increasingly dangerous behavior” as a foundation for its authorization to kill 1057. Biologists assigned the number to it according to its capture collar fitted after incidents in Jackson Hole. Grizzlies remain on the list of threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act.
“We’re not looking at just what happened in that Kendall Valley area since May,” Thompson said about the decision to kill 1057. “We’re looking at the last two and a half years of food rewards, habituation.”
Grizzly 1057 evolved from being habituated — or comfortable around humans — to become food-conditioned. That’s the point “where this bear was just actively seeking out food at people’s residences,” Thompson said.
That forced wildlife managers to do “what’s right for the sake of human safety,” he said.
“We can’t look away from the fact that these bears were taught to actively seek out human foods,” Thompson said.
Grizzly advocates call 1057’s mother — 399 — an ambassador grizzly or a rock-star bear because of the world-wide fan base it developed after raising several litters near the roadside in Grand Teton National Park. But last year 399 led its four latest offspring, including 1057, on a Jackson Hole walkabout. The family traversed neighborhoods, walked through downtown Jackson one night and obtained food rewards from at least 10 sites.
Wildlife officials followed the family and hazed it five times last summer after the five bears raided beehives and livestock feed.
Grizzly 399 “has always been habituated,” Thompson said. “But it had never been seeking out human foods until more recently. And that behavior was really taught to these offspring.
Bear-proof trash cans
Among the problems in Jackson Hole was that one resident in the central valley routinely, and for years, put out food for moose. Grizzly 399 discovered the cache. Distributing grain brought the attention of federal and state wildlife officials and warnings from them but no citations, according to an investigation by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
Grizzly deaths resulting from food conditioning prompted a campaign for better local rules to secure unnatural bear attractants. “[I]t is beyond due time to require bear proof trash cans in Teton County,” wrote Savannah Rose in an online petition at Change.org.
She made her push after officials killed two grand-cubs of 399 that got food rewards in residential areas just south of Grand Teton National Park. Most of the rewards came from trash cans.
“We fear that world famous Grizzly 399’s cubs will face a similar fate if they are allowed to disperse into the same hostile environment full of unsecured trash if there are no bear proof can ordinances put in place,” Rose wrote.
She collected 75,199 signatures, according to Change.org. Teton County subsequently amended its land development regulations to require bear-resistant refuse and recycling containers and dumpsters.
Bear-proof trash cans are now required throughout Teton County, according to a regulation that went into effect July 1. The rule also requires bird feeders and other attractants to be out of bear reach.
The rule spawned a trash-can campaign by Jackson Hole Bear Solutions, which has distributed some 300 grizzly proof cans throughout the county in the last month or so. Cans cost just north of $300, but the nonprofit program provides some for free.
Activists founded the organization “to aid residents in complying with this requirement in a way that is easy and affordable,” the group says on its website. “We believe that Jackson should be a national epicenter for conflict prevention education and a coexistence model for other communities.”
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.