On September 12, 2013 an adult female grizzly bear was shot by a resident of Island Park, Idaho. Because the incident is under investigation by the enforcement branch of the United States Fish & Wildlife (USFWS), these are the only details able to be released at this time. Because the grizzly bear is still listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Act decisions made regarding the handling of grizzly bears falls under the jurisdiction of the USWFS. As the result of the shooting two young grizzly bears were orphaned.
There has been some concern from the public because it has been believed that the bears orphaned were cubs of the year, born this last winter. When measurement taken of the young bears’ front paw pad prints at the scene where the sow was shot were compared to hundreds of previous measurements from other cubs of the year, it is clear these bears are yearlings. According to Large Carnivore Biologist Bryan Aber, who works for Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) and is part of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), “7 centimeters (cm) is the standard for cubs of the year in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, measurements I made of the cub’s front pad prints were 8.5 cm and 9 cm. This measurement clearly makes these bears yearlings.”
The distinction between cubs of the year and yearling is of major importance. According to Aber, “Orphaned cubs of the year generally stand little chance of survival if left on their own heading into winter. Yearlings that are in good condition stand a very good chance of surviving.” The policy of the state and federal agencies managing grizzly bears is to not capture orphaned yearlings as they have good a chance of surviving in the wild.
There has been a call by some members of the public to capture the grizzlies and place them in a rehab facility, as if they could be held in captivity, fed, and released later somewhere. According to USWFS Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Chris Servheen, “Rehab with grizzlies is really not an option. Grizzly bears cannot be captured and held in a facility and released later. If these bears were captured they would have to put in permanent captivity in a zoo or euthanized.” According to Aber, “The bears appear to be in good shape and by reports they are at least 100 pounds. They have been observed feeding in the forest on elk gut piles, so as long as they stay away from humans they should be able to go into hibernation later successfully.” Chris Servheen said, “If these bears get into conflicts they may be captured and relocated to another area, but this will only be done as a last resort. Their best opportunity to survive is to be left within the habitats where they grew up and for residents to make sure all attractants like birdfeeders, pet food, livestock feed, and garbage are secured and unavailable bears.”
Residents and hunters of Island Park know that both black and grizzly bears are present throughout the area. The killing of a grizzly is rarely the end of the story; often there are management and legal outcomes that require difficult decisions. Working to prevent human caused grizzly bear deaths is the best way to keep things simple. To learn more about grizzly bear recovery, management, and safety visit: www.igbconline.org.
Logo courtesy Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee/ Idaho Department of Fish & Game