After three hunters surprised a grizzly bear in the Thorofare region Thursday, the grizzly was shot and killed, and one of the hunters was flown to a hospital.
“It was a surprise encounter,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore manager Dan Thompson told the News&Guide. “There was a carcass involved, but it wasn’t theirs.”
A Cody outfitter, he said, was guiding the hunters. Although the mauled hunter was hurt badly enough to be flown by helicopter over 130 miles to Billings, Montana, by Tuesday the injured man had been released.
Other details being made public are scant. The lethal conflict, which took place on Bridger-Teton National Forest south of Yellowstone National Park, is being investigated because grizzly bears are classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents, in conjunction with Game and Fish wardens, will look into the incident to see if self-defense was warranted in killing one of the approximately 700 grizzlies in the region. If so, charges will be dropped. If investigators don’t find sufficient justification for shooting the bruin, its death could be prosecuted.
“They were very cooperative,” Thompson said of the hunters, “and they notified us immediately.”
A warden happened to be stationed at a Thorofare patrol cabin, he said, and was able to get a jump on the investigation.
The conflict in the grizzly-dense Thorofare was one of two lethal incidents involving bears and hunters in the last week. On Saturday an archery hunter on Rattlesnake Mountain west of Cody shot and killed a charging grizzly. That time the hunter went uninjured.
As with the Thorofare grizzly, the shooting is under investigation, and the details being made public are few.
Yet another grizzly bear was run over last weekend on the highway along the North Fork of the Shoshone River near Wapiti, Thompson said. It’s “highly likely” that it’s a bear that was habituated and had been hanging out near homes in the small community east of Yellowstone and getting into people’s garbage.
“Hopefully that situation will go away,” Thompson said, “although it’s unfortunate it was a vehicle strike.”
The three recent grizzly deaths have not yet been added to an online mortality database maintained by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Add those three incidents, and there are 33 grizzly deaths documented to date in the ecosystem.
With a couple months to go until hibernation — include hunting season, which is particularly deadly — it’s tough to say if 2020 is shaping up to be a good year or a bad one for grizzly conflicts and deaths. There was a good berry crop in the region this year, and conflict was generally low in August and September, Thompson said. But the pace of negative encounters picked up after a September cold blast that caused berries to wither and fall in conjunction with grizzlies becoming hyperphagic — a technical term for ravenous.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of the year pans out,” Thompson said.
In 2018, an especially conflict prone year, there were 68 grizzlies known to have died in the ecosystem. Last year the mortality count came in at 45 grizzlies. As recently as 2013 and ’14 there were years when the total grizzly bear mortality in the ecosystem ended up in the 20s.
“Whatever I say, I’m going to get beat up by one side or the other,” Thompson said. “But [higher mortality numbers] is a function of having a healthy bear population.”
Half the grizzly bear deaths that have been detected to date in 2020 occurred outside a “demographic monitoring area” in the core of the ecosystem, he pointed out. It’s unknown how many bears dwell along the fringes of the region. The other half of mortalities logged occurred inside that 19,270-square-mile monitoring area, where the population of grizzlies is estimated at about 700 animals.