A young female grizzly bear that likely shares the bloodlines of a celebrated Grand Teton National Park sow is now roaming clear across the ecosystem near Beartooth Pass.
Pending the results of in-the-works genetic testing, it’s impossible to say with certainly whether the subadult 2 1/2-year-old animal that was relocated as a precaution Monday is one of the two cubs grizzly 399 cast away earlier this summer.
But based on the animal’s age and its whereabouts when it was trapped and collared for research earlier this year, Wyoming Game and Fish Department carnivore chief Dan Thompson said that there’s a “high likelihood” the young grizzly is in fact the offspring of a bear that’s so famous she has her own social media channels and a book in her name.
It’s a tough call, Thompson said, anytime his agency is weighing whether to move a grizzly bear because of conflict or habituated behavior. Animals with blood ties to bear 399 make the decision even harder, though he tries to divorce an animal’s lineage from the calculus.
“At the end of the day, we have to do what’s right for people and bears,” Thompson told the Jackson Hole Daily on Friday. “It’s not going to change our management decision.”
Before being live-trapped and driven to the Shoshone National Forest’s Fox Creek drainage, the subadult female had frequented private land between Teton Park’s south boundary and the Gros Ventre River for “at least a few weeks,” Thompson said. The animal had no history of conflict but was habituated, had shown signs of having received a human “food reward” and, recently, was sticking tight to private land.
“It was actively seeking food around residences at night,” Thompson said. “We had an opportunity to catch it and get it out of that type of scenario, and that’s why we did what we did.”
Relocating bears to attempt to break a cycle of undesirable behavior is routine business in Wyoming and the broader Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is home to 750 or so grizzly bears. Sometimes it’s because an animal is killing livestock, while other times the cause is bold behavior, like raiding trash cans.
When grizzlies are in a precarious place, like an active grazing allotment or a neighborhood, they’re occasionally moved purely as a precaution. This year 15 grizzlies have been moved in Wyoming, Thompson said, slightly less than the average of around 20.
The purpose of moving a bear a long ways away is to minimize the chances that the animal finds its way back and resumes the unwanted behavior. In this case, the subadult griz was moved at least 100 straight-line miles, with the vast and snow-covered Absaroka Range in between.
“It’s as far away as we can get within the system, really,” Thompson said.
Grizzly 399, now 23 years old, gained fame for having raised at least four litters of cubs well within view of the roads in Teton Park. Her cubs, which have also gained a following, have been moved before by the state agency when they departed the park, and at times that has ignited great controversy.
In 2014 a 399-reared subadult known as grizzly 760 was trapped for loitering on private lands near Teton Village and moved to near Clark. Shortly thereafter, the male bear was euthanized after eating a deer that a hunter had hung from a tree.
Wilson resident Cindy Campbell was the ringleader of an activist group that condemned that decision, and, reached Friday, she again was disappointed.
“She is still just exploring her own territory,” Campbell said of the young bear. “When are we going to make our ranches and homes bear-proof? She wouldn’t have lingered down there if there hadn’t been something to keep her there.”
Thompson said that residents of the Snake River east bank subdivisions south of the park have been generally doing a “great job” using bear-proof garbage cans and cleaning up attractants like bird seed this fall. When asked, he did not specify the food reward the grizzly obtained.
“It’s a tough deal,” he said. “You can’t always secure every attractant.”