Maury Jones awoke Sunday morning to the door unexpectedly ajar in the garbage room attached to the garage at the Trinity Ranch.
A footprint to the side of a bear-proof trash canister that had been scratched, but not opened, spanned 6 inches across. Its sheer size suggested a grizzly bear had used brute force to open the closed but unlatched heavy-duty double door, and when Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Mike Boyce showed up to investigate, he agreed, theorizing it was the same grizzly the Circle EW Ranch caught on a surveillance tape a couple of weeks ago.
“So we have a grizzly in the Solitude/Serenity/Trinity Ranch area west of the airport,” Jones said.
“I’ve never had that problem there — that’s the first time — although six or seven years ago I had a mama grizzly [with two cubs] being chased by the horses here,” he said. “I’m sure what happened is they came out of the river bottom.”
The dispersed upscale neighborhoods and guest and working ranches leading south from Grand Teton National Park can be about as wild a place as any in Jackson Hole, thanks to the wide riparian area that lines the Snake River. A resident elk herd has thrived there more than wildlife managers desire, and mountain lions and wolves often move through — sometimes with consequences for livestock and pets.
“Kind of in the last five years, we’ve generally had more sightings and grizzly bears documented using the Snake River corridor south of Teton park,” Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said. “There’s good habitat, and it’s a natural travel corridor.”
The southward expansion isn’t all new. On occasion grizzlies in the heart of the valley have pushed even farther south, ending up in places like South Park and even once near Jackson Hole High School. They’ve also become regulars on the National Elk Refuge each fall during the elk-hunting season.
But the larger of the two native bear species is, for now, generally the exception when it comes to conflicts in developed Jackson Hole. Although it’s still in the early going at just over two weeks into true summer, the pace of those conflicts stemming from trash and picnicking visitors has been significant.
“Really, we’re taking multiple calls every day now on bear conflicts,” Gocke said. “It’s pretty widespread.”
Besides the grizzly west of Jackson Hole Airport, there have been incidents with food-habituated bears on Fall Creek Road and near Hoback Junction, Bryan Flats, Teton Village and the campground in Teton Canyon, he said. The problems have often occurred in portions of Teton County where bear-resistant trash cans are required, but issues persist because of faulty lids, cans left out overnight and people stacking trash on top of full cans.
Grand Teton National Park has also had a rough early summer for conflict between people and black bears. A subadult female was euthanized Friday after spending weeks trolling developed parts of Jenny and String lakes, capitalizing on picnic scraps from inattentive or spooked visitors.
“We did intend to relocate it,” Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said. “But we were unable to trap it.”
In the meantime the behavior persisted, and by the time the young bear took the bait and triggered the trap Friday she had already received a minimum of four “food rewards.”
Another habituated bear that has frequented Moose-Wilson Road for at least the past three summers was given another chance when it was trapped the same week. That animal, also a sow, had similarly been fed by people, and was brazen enough that she put her paws on an occupied vehicle. Biologists deemed the bear to have a better chance at breaking the habit, and after capturing the animal they relocated it to the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.
The suspected grizzly that broke into the Trinity Ranch garbage room didn’t manage too cause much damage, and its only reward was empty grass fertilizer bags. Nevertheless, Jones said, he learned a lesson.
“I’ll be latching the right-hand door,” he said, “so he can’t pull that thing open again.”
Game and Fish’s Boyce sent out a live culvert-style trap the day Trinity Ranch’s manager called in the ursine visitor, but the animal seemed to have drifted away in the days that followed and evaded capture. On Tuesday they pulled the trap. The plan going forward, Gocke said, is to wait for the next conflict.