The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears are running into trouble in developed areas and with livestock and hunters — and as a result are dying at high rates.

Natural food sources are lacking this fall, too.

So far 46 grizzlies are known to have died in 2015, and in the period from mid-September to mid-October the bears were falling at a rate of about one every other day.

Given the size of the grizzly population and declining amount of important food sources, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader Frank van Manen said the high mortality is not surprising.

“It’s to be expected, at some point,” van Manen said. “You’re going to have a low food year, and that’s partially what we’re experiencing.

“This is not a total failure year for whitebark pine, but it’s certainly not a good year,” he said. “That’s certainly part of the mix, but I think there’s more to it than whitebark pine.”

More anecdotally, other food sources, such as berries, also haven’t fared well this fall, van Manen said.

Both 2013 and 2014, the grizzly scientist pointed out, were good years for survival. Interagency Grizzly Bear Study databases show that total annual mortalities were in the high 20s.

But in the three preceding years, 2010 through 2012, an average of 50 grizzlies died each year. Paltry natural food conditions, van Manen said, are a “common denominator” among recent years when grizzlies have been dying at high rates.

Higher grizzly populations could also be a factor, though van Manen noted that numbers have been stagnant for more than a decade. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study last estimated 757 bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“Our population level is not changing much,” van Manen said. “Our estimate is slightly below last year, but if you look at the longer-term trend, the population has been at this level for the last 15 years. We’re not seeing much change in that, but it is at a pretty high level.”

The study team’s online mortality database shows that humans were involved in more than 80 percent of the ecosystem’s grizzly deaths this year, with the rest from natural causes.

The latest entry in the database, which listed 45 mortalities Tuesday, was posted Oct. 8, when a sow grizzly with a record of troubles was killed for eating apples on private land north of Teton Valley near Falls River.

The 46th grizzly death happened in the Upper Green River basin. The incident hasn’t yet been posted in the database, but was reported Saturday by the online news outlet WyoFile.

Livestock grazing, mostly in Wyoming and on public land, has been the leading cause of grizzlies dying this year. Fourteen of the 46 bears that have died were killed in response to slain sheep or cattle, although one of these bears died accidentally while it was being handled.

It’s unclear how many bears have been shot and killed this fall by hunters. Hunter gunfire usually kills about 10 grizzlies per year in the ecosystem.

The mortality data relating to hunting, van Manen said, will be available by the time the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meets Nov. 3 and 4 at Hotel Terra in Teton Village.

One Jackson Hole big game outfitter said that in his experiences grizzlies this fall have been steering clear of trouble with hunters and camps.

“I haven’t had any problems at Pacific Creek, zero,” Swift Creek Outfitters owner B.J. Hill said. “Even in the backcountry, all them Gros Ventre camps, we just haven’t had any problems. And that’s really God dang rare for us.

“People need to understand that this is still a God dang mess,” Hill said. “They’ve eaten themselves out of house and home. There are just too many bears on the land.”

There are 10 entries in the study team’s mortality database that state “under investigation” but that show few other details. While some could be from malicious killings, it’s likely many are hunting-related.

Longtime grizzly bear activist Louisa Willcox said that the high number of grizzly deaths being investigated caught her eye.

“I have never seen so many ‘under investigations’ ever, and they’re all in Wyoming,” Willcox said. “What is going on?”

Eight of the 10 cases being investigated occurred in Wyoming, one happened in Montana, and the database lists no location for the remaining case.

“It’s not ranchers doing this,” Willcox said. “And it’s not some recreating Joe Blow, I’m pretty sure.

“It’s claims of self-defense,” she said.

Willcox said it would be a boon to grizzly bear conservation to be able to review the outcomes of the self-defense killing investigations. Ordinarily, the cases wrap up months or years later without prosecution, and the results are never made public.

“What is the point, not to learn from these dead bear experiences?” Willcox said. “It’s outrageous. It undermines the public interest in every sense — in terms of saving grizzly bears, in terms of preserving a functioning ecosystem and in terms of ensuring the safety of visitors.”

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

(15) comments

Glenn Graham

The Grizzly population is stagnant at best, 6% of the population has been killed "at an alarming rate" just this year alone -"from mid-September to mid-October the bears were falling at a rate of about one every other day". Their main food sources are gone so they have to search further into more dangerous territory to find food. And the proposal is to delist them from the Endangered Species Act because they are no longer endangered? That makes no sense and is a blatant contradiction. Of course they shouldnt be delisted. Surely we can find a way to live with the Grizzly bears and not kill them? We live in the 21st century, not the 19th.

Chad guenter

Mr. Graham, go out and try an "live" with a grizzly. See how that works out for you.

And it doesn't matter if this is 2015, 1815, 1515, etc. etc. etc. A human being is a human being and a Grizzly bear is a Grizzly bear. The "times" have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Start a controlled hunt of Grizzly bears and unintended encounters will decrease. Guaranteed.

Jeff Soulliere

"Perhaps the real nuisance is that species on two legs."[sad]

Chad guenter

To the puritanical adherents of the religion that is modern day Environmentalism, human beings are enemy number one to be treated as a parasite in the "natural" world as they define it.

"Gang Green" as some call them, would like nothing better than to see humans caged and restricted to only small urban areas of the planet.

Dave Smith

When David Trembly's sons killed a charging grizzly in self-defense during Grand Teton's elk reduction hunt in 2012, I got a copy of the park's official "case incident report," and it was worthless. When the bear charged, did the sons have a round in the chamber, safety on, or did they chamber a round and then shoot? Nothing in the case incident report. When the bear charged, how were the sons carrying their rifles: 2-hand (ready) carry, slung over their shoulder, trail carry, shoulder carry, etc. Nothing in the case incident report. Why did the sons use their rifles, not bear spray? These are critically important questions to ask if we want to learn why the sons and their father escaped injury. It's possible the NPS rangers are so ignorant about firearms, they failed to ask pertinent questions. It's more probable the boys had a round in the chamber and 2 hands on their rifles, so they couldn't use bear spray; the NPS does not want the media or the public to realize bear spray is not a realistic option for hunters in many situations.

Chad guenter

Bravo sir!

The last thing someone with a loaded high powered rifle in ther hands is going do in a life threatening situation is drop it to grab a can on their hip or anywhere else.

Jay Westemeier

Even though in many cases bear spray is more effective than pulling the trigger of a gun.

Dave Smith

To begin with, Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska (2008) and Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska (2012) are extremely biased and seriously flawed studies. It's impossible to make an apples to apples comparison of these studies, and to do so would earn a high school sophomore and F in Biology 101. The study that's somewhat comparable to Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska is Miller & Tutterrow's 1999 paper on Characteristics of Nonsport Mortalities to Brown and Black Bears and Human Injuries From Bears In Alaska. The study was based on Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game records of bears killed in defense of life or property. The injury rate to humans was

Chad guenter

Mr. Westemeier, what happens in the National Parks is up to them.
Why would government money and resources be watsed in the National forests on something hunters can do that would make the State loads of revenue? That revenue, in turn being put right back into the habitat restoration you talk about?

In regards to "planting and maintaining" food sources in the backcountry, I dont know of a way humans could possibly do more than what nature already does, unless you would like to introduce some invasive species of plant simply to feed bears in the GYE backcountry??? You aren't suggesting that right?

Jay Westemeier

I don't like to get into an argument about the lame position of how much revenue hunters would put back into the state and local economy based on a bear hunting season, but here it goes. That "load" of revenue would be tiny compared to the lost revenue from tourists who would cancel their plans to visit Jackson Hole and other parts of Wyoming because of decreased chances of seeing a bear because of your proposed hunt. The food source restoration I'm proposing is native berry plots where they have a better chance of surviving less than ideal weather conditions and farther away from populated areas. I believe this was done a few years back with willow plots to help the declining moose population. The only people that ever complain about the bear and wolf populations are either a relatively small group of outfitters, elk & deer hunters, or large city transplants who can't deal with the thought of a wild animal within a 100 miles of them. The problem, if there really is one at all, is too many people....not too many bears. I also agree with Ms. Willcox that the results of these so-called investigations of self defense killings by hunters need to be made transparent.

Jay Westemeier

If the Government were to actually schedule a controlled hunt that was limited to National Park and National Forest personnel only, I wonder if Mr. Hill and Mr. Guenter would gripe about that too. I believe one possible solution might be to allocate more money toward bear habitat restoration, such as planting and maintaining natural food sources in areas farther away from human populations and where these food sources can thrive.

Chad guenter

???? Graham: The next sentence in your excerpt.....
"We’re not seeing much change in that, but it is at a pretty high level.”

What do you figure "pretty high level" means? If half the sows in the GYE are as fertile/productive as 399 and 610, I am not surprised that the population is at a "pretty high level".

Tell me, would you prefer a grizzly starve to death, be killed in a human interaction as it is pushed into populated areas searching for food, OR have the grizzly numbers thinned slightly through hunting which would ease the pressure/competition on the population as a whole???

While we are sharing quotes from the article, here is another from some who is in the back country much of the year with FIRSTHAND knowledge of what is going on.

"""""“People need to understand that this is still a God dang mess,” Hill said. “They’ve eaten themselves out of house and home. There are just too many bears on the land.”"""""

Chad guenter

Rules of conduct........

"Your first and last names are required for your comment to be posted"

Glenn Graham

No Chad. Executing bears isnt the solution. “Our population level is not changing much,” van Manen said. “Our estimate is slightly below last year, but if you look at the longer-term trend, the population has been at this level for the last 15 years"

Chad guenter

"""Given the size of the grizzly population and declining amount of important food sources"""


TOO MANY bears.

This article presents a good picture of exactly why a Grizzly management program/ hunt is needed in the GYE.

The bears are running out of space and food because the carrying capacity of their habitat has been surpassed.

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