POWELL — Two grizzly bear conflicts in Park County have ended in one hunter being injured and two dead bears in the past week.
On Thursday evening, a hunter looking for elk in the Thorofare was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear. The man was airlifted to Cody for treatment; the bear was killed in the incident.
In a second incident on Saturday, a grizzly bear charged an archery hunter on Rattlesnake Mountain west of Cody. The hunter was not injured, but the bear was killed in the incident.
Both bears were old, experienced bears. One was a boar and one was a sow, said Daniel Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor for the Game and Fish. There was no immediate word on whether they were protecting cubs or meat stashes.
Because grizzly bears are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Game and Fish coordinates extensively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on conflicts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is leading both of the ongoing investigations, said Tara Hodges, a spokeswoman for the Game and Fish in Cody. Thursday’s attack was the fourth documented human-bear encounter in Wyoming to result in injuries in 2020 and the ninth in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The rate of injury is well above the yearly average in the ecosystem and comes as hunting season is just getting started in the region.
“I’ve been nervous all summer,” Thompson said Monday. “I don’t want to jinx anything, because we’re still going into a busy time period with hyperphagia and a lot of people using the outdoors. But quite honestly, for the amount of people in the woods and a lot of them being inexperienced in the backcountry, I think things went OK.”
An early snowstorm also forced bears to look for food sources outside their normal ranges.
“That storm that we had in early September killed a lot of berries. So I think that resulted in some of the conflict issues we’re seeing right now with bears down low,” Thompson said. “But it’s that time of year. I mean, we’re always busy in Park County in the fall.”
He said the high density of bears is a part of the problem. Game and Fish personnel investigated and recorded 194 human-grizzly bear conflicts in 2019, most being conflicts with ranchers. As a result of education and conflict prevention efforts, the general pattern of conflicts is relatively steady to increasing within currently occupied habitat. However, as occupied grizzly bear range has expanded, conflicts continue to occur in areas outside the core habitat known as the Demographic Monitoring Area (DMA), often on private lands. Grizzly bears are increasingly coming into conflict with people in areas where grizzly bears have not been present in recent history, according to a 2019 Wyoming Grizzly Bear Job Completion Report published by the Game and Fish.
Another concern is that more and more people look to adventure in the outdoors while practicing social distancing. As grizzly bears expand further into human-dominated landscapes outside the DMA, the potential for conflict between bears and humans increases, resulting in negative outcomes for both grizzly bears and people.
For the first time in more than a decade, no humans were injured or killed by a grizzly bear in Wyoming in 2019. Despite the population of grizzlies trending slightly upward, substantially fewer bears had to be relocated or killed by wildlife managers due to conflicts last year. Eighteen grizzly bears were euthanized in 2019, down from a record 32 in 2018.
So far this year, 23 grizzly bears have been euthanized in conflict management decisions. Six other grizzly bear deaths are currently being investigated, including the two since Thursday, and two grizzlies have been killed in collisions with vehicles so far this year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the final word on management decisions about the protected species and investigates each death.