Grizzly presence increasing in Sublette

Ryan Dorgan, Jackson Hole Daily photo Grizzly bear 863, also known as Felicia, takes a break from eating along the shoulder of U.S. Highway 26/287 to stretch and scratch herself in May of 2020.

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Grizzly bears are closer than you think.

Following news of the recent black bear lethally removed from the Big Sandy area and the numerous verified sightings of bears in the Kemmerer area that have dropped off, Wyoming Game and Fish officials shed some light on grizzly bear relocations and sightings in Sublette County.

Four grizzly bears have been relocated and four removed from the Upper Green River Basin since the first instance this summer on July 11.

Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore expert, said those numbers essentially fall in line with normal relocations, although conflict numbers have risen across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“We always have a lot of potential conflict in that country because we have a lot of grizzly bears and a lot of cattle up there,” Thompson said. “I can say we verified, we’re going to be going over 100 conflicts we’ve looked into here in the next week and we’re in the 90s now with conflicts with grizzlies.”

The first grizzly was not involved in conflict but was mitigating cattle depredation north of Pinedale. That sub-adult male was relocated to about 14 miles northwest of Dubois. That was three days before an adult male grizzly was captured for killing cattle on a grazing allotment. That bear was moved to five miles east of the Yellowstone National Park.

Nearly two weeks passed before a sub-adult female grizzly was captured north of Pinedale for killing cattle on grazing allotments and also moved to east of Yellowstone National Park. Another sub-adult female was captured under the same circumstances on July 31 and moved to 12 miles east of Moran.

The latest grizzly captured in Sublette County was a sub-adult female on Aug. 25 for killing cattle on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment north of Pinedale and also relocated to just outside Yellowstone National Park.

Thompson said those interventions happen if officials can verify the killing of a calf or yearling. The first option is capturing and relocating before conflicts rise because a cattle kill is a no-win situation, he said. When a grizzly is relocated, especially in instances of confirmed cattle killing, they’re moved as far away as possible from grazing cattle and other grizzlies as all possible. That can prove an issue as grizzly density in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem only increases.

Then, in cases of a confirmed chronic depredator, more extreme measures are taken.

“You don’t want that continuing,” Thompson said. “We use the information we have in hand to determine what to do. We keep track of bears we’ve previously caught so that works into that.”

Grizzly activity hasn’t been confined to near Pinedale. Thompson said they’re sure grizzlies are reaching into the northern Wyoming Range.

“We definitely have some that have moved into that country,” he said. “We have seen some expansion into that area. We aren’t promoting grizzly bears.

“We’re seeing expansion across the board, southern end of the Wind Rivers and the Absaroka front to the east. The problem with that is they expand beyond a suitable habitat.”

That migration fits national trends since grizzly bears were added to the Endangered Species Act, according to Joe Szuszwalak of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He reiterated the act’s purpose was to issue strong protections limiting human-caused mortality to recover the grizzly bear population.

“Those regulations have worked – population size and distribution have increased,” he said.

Of course, the increasing presence of grizzlies in the West heightens the possibility for grizzly conflicts. Reporting grizzly tracks, scat and potentially enticing environments are recommended for farmers and ranchers in bear country. Szuszwalak also suggested following grizzly management practices, as listed out by the Fish and Widlife Service, as well as Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“That includes considering the use of electric fencing where possible and securing attractants such as carcasses and compost piles, and increasing human presence on the landscape (range riders),” he said.

In the instance of those traveling through Sublette County, now being an increasing part of bear country, Szuszwalak reiterated carrying bear spray and properly storing food. Game and Fish recently hosted a bear spray in Lander, which Thompson said was a success. He told the Examiner hundreds of cans were given away in a matter of minutes. He said the department hopes to host a giveaway in Sublette County, although its unlikely to happen this year.

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