Biologists have confirmed that a female grizzly bear killed by a hunter Sept. 19 near Ditch Creek was one of three offspring of the famous bear 399, Grand Teton National Park officials said Thursday.
The grizzly family gained fame in Grand Teton while 399 raised her three cubs by the roadside near Jackson Lake Lodge from 2006 to 2008. Genetic testing confirmed the dead bear’s lineage.
Authorities say Teton Village resident Stephen Westmoreland, 40, shot one of the cubs, which park biologists dubbed 615, from 40 yards away while he was helping carry a deer his hunting partner shot in Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Teton County Attorney Steve Weichman later charged Westmoreland with taking a grizzly bear without a license, based on an investigation by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. It is legal to shoot a grizzly only in self-defense.
According to a Wyoming Game and Fish report, Westmoreland was walking along the trail in a 3-acre meadow when the bear appeared scavenging a moose carcass left behind by another hunter.
Westmoreland was armed with a .270-caliber rifle and a .44-caliber pistol but was not carrying bear pepper spray. He shot the bear with the rifle from about 40 yards as the bear dropped to all fours and faced him, according to Game and Fish. The bear was shot first through the chest and then in the mid-body area on its left side. The bear died five feet from the moose carcass, according to the report.
On Thursday, Grand Teton National Park senior wildlife biologist Steve Cain said researchers caught 615 by accident this summer near Moose Junction while they were conducting a research project on the effect of the park’s new pathway system on black bears. Park researchers gave 615 a radio collar and took blood and hair samples to assist the U.S. Geological Survey Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which uses female grizzly bears for its population studies.
The 3-year-old female weighed about 225 pounds.
“She was in excellent shape, and large for her age,” Cain said.
Cain said the bear was habituated to people but had never become conditioned to human food.
“[She] had not been involved in any conflicts,” he said. “The science indicates that bears that are habituated to people are less likely to act aggressively toward people.”
Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said she couldn’t comment on the charges against Westmoreland but said the incident emphasizes the need for hunters and other backcountry travelers to carry bear spray.
“The use of bear pepper spray is a better option — a nonlethal option for wildlife and a safer option for hunters,” she said.
Skaggs said 615’s fame, however, doesn’t make her more or less important than any other bear in the region.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost such a wonderful bear out of this population,” Skaggs said. “[But] this particular family and this particular female are not the only [bears] in Grand Teton National Park.”