Jack Bayles didn’t hesitate to beeline it for northern Grand Teton National Park when word had it that lumbering grizzly bear 679, a big male who goes by Bruno, was out of his den.
The grizzly-sighting memo, reportedly of an animal headed south from John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, trickled through to a few other folks as well.
“It was pretty slow, but there were still four or five of us on Saturday waiting at Arizona Island in a little bit of a wide spot in the road,” said Bayles, who leads commercial photo safaris in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Their persistence paid off.
“He popped out on the road,” Bayles said. “But pretty soon a snowplow came through and pushed him back off the road.”
Given that the animal was “Bruno,” a springtime and early summer mainstay in the “Greater Willow Flats Metropolitan Area,” the big bear’s southerly movement was somewhat expected, he said.
“This is actually early for him,” Bayles said. “Last year, Bruno day was April 8.”
The sighting marked Bayles’ — and many other avid wildlife watchers’ — first Jackson Hole grizzly bear sighting of 2020, although elsewhere in the ecosystem Ursus arctos horribilis have already been spotted on the go.
Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann confirmed the sighting and perhaps a second grizzly out of the den, but said none of the park’s science staff were available for an interview.
Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem typically start to emerge from their five-month hibernations in late February, though sows with cubs can stay in and around their dens into May.
Yellowstone National Park reported its first grizzly of the year on March 7, when wolf biologist Kira Cassidy snapped a pic of one during an aerial survey near Grand Prismatic Spring. In 2019, the first Yellowstone sighting was March 8.
A Jackson Hole Mountain Resort gondola rider caught footage of a black bear out of its den and cutting across an open ski run March 12, just days before the ski area closed early for the season because of the coronavirus.
The global pandemic also shut down the bear-watching season in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Although the crowds were still small, last weekend, the Bruno sighting attracted people “looking for him specifically” who came from as far as California and Utah, Bayles said.
“I was sort of sort of surprised to see that many people from that many locations,” he said.
Snowed-over Grand Teton National Park is still squarely within its spring offseason, with next to no public services available, but Montana Public Radio has reported that there’s already a good flow of traffic headed through Yellowstone’s north gate at Mammoth.
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly released a prepared statement on Monday night saying that he’s received a “substantial number” of requests to close, including from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Wyoming. Gov. Mark Gordon.
By Tuesday, Grand Teton National Park had gotten on the same page.
“Effective immediately, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are closed to all park visitors until further notice,” a Tuesday release said. “State highways and/or roads that transcend park/state boundaries and facilities that support life safety and commerce will remain open. Both parks will cooperate on the implementation of the closures. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels.”
Bayles is committed enough of a grizzly photographer that he’s been out and about even as he’s going through chemotherapy and recovering from skin cancer. He preferred that the parks stay open.
“People can follow social distancing recommendations,” he said. “If it gets to that point, it gets to that point, I guess.”
But he’s glad to have spotted and photographed Bruno.
“It’s just good to see him, right?” Bayles said. “That’s why we live here — it’s for the grizzly bears.”