On April 22nd, trappers from USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Wildlife Services along with assistance from IDFG (Idaho Department of Fish & Game) were forced to euthanize a three-year old female grizzly that had come out of hibernation and originally started getting into garbage cans in a subdivision near the Idaho/Wyoming border outside of Driggs, Idaho. The bear had been relocated last year after becoming habituated to apple orchards on the North Fork of the Shoshone River in Wyoming. Compounding the problem of the bear’s addiction to human related foods was the fact that local residents had not been complying with a bear sanitation ordinance that went into effect for Teton County last year. The bear had lost all fear of people and out of concern for human safety the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) authorized removal of the bear.
According to IDFG Regional Wildlife Manager Daryl Meints, “While the Yellowstone Ecosystem is a big place, there is no where you can put a problem bear without the chance of it getting back into trouble.” The fact that the bear had become habituated to human related foods meant that it was likely to run into problems no matter where it might have been released, but the fact that residents were failing to follow the guidelines of the bear sanitation order regarding the storage of garbage cans accelerated the bear’s downfall.
The Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan requires that bears be relocated within the state that they were captured in when causing problems. This bear had been released in Wyoming near Squirrel Meadows, but had spent the fall and even denned for the winter in Idaho. Earlier in the week, IDFG had been working with WGF (Wyoming Game & Fish) to attempt to capture the bear after it would retreat into the foothills of Wyoming after several nights of raiding in Idaho, where it also seemed to develop a taste for foam rubber products like hot tub covers and cars seats.
Teton County Prosecutor Kathy Spitzer had already begun to address the situation by sending out letters to the residents failing to comply with the sanitation ordinance, but repeated raids by the bear and its total loss of fear of humans meant that dramatic action had to be taken.
According to IDFG Regional Supervisor Steve Schmidt, “We don’t enjoy having to do this, but the actions of the people caused us to. While Yellowstone grizzlies are technically still on the Endangered Species List, the population is essentially recovered and this is the kind of management action we will need to take to keep people safe once bears become food conditioned.” Local conservation officers had been going door to door to inform residents about the bear’s presence and what they as homeowners needed to do to help prevent future problems.
The whole game plan shifted of Friday the 20th when the sow decided to food shift to a diet of domestic piglets, chickens, and bee hives, further south near the Victor Cemetery. Once the bear had gotten into domestic livestock, IDFG was able to request the assistance of USDA Wildlife Services trappers. The bear struck again the next evening getting into some different chickens, as well as revisiting the previous site. Trappers had placed a culvert trap out for the bear, but the bear would not enter it. Fortunately, the bear did step into a snare that had also been set. The bear was dispatched at daylight on Sunday when trappers were investigating the previous night’s activities. The bear will be mounted for education purposes and placed in the United States Forest Service (USFS) Teton Ranger District Office, where it will be used to educate the public about the challenges of living in bear country.
A recent bear/human conflict workshop held in Missoula, Montana featured a number of sessions dealing with the growing problems associated with the popular trend of personal chicken flocks and bears being attracted to them. Not only are bears attracted to chickens, but even something as seemingly benign as a compost pile can be a irresistible draw for bears. According to Meints, “People living in bear country need look at everything they do and figure out if it will attract bears; because even though we took care of this one, there are still other black and grizzly bears out there in the woods!”
A good starting point to learn about living with bears is the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) website, found atwww.igbconline.org.