U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents and associates have hazed world-famous grizzly 399, and her four yearling cubs, five times after she raided beehives and livestock feed in southern Jackson Hole.
The federal wildlife agency and other officials increased efforts last week to monitor the grizzly and her family after the group traversed Jackson Hole, including residential neighborhoods, several times since August. The gang of five has secured illicit food rewards 10 times, the agency said in a statement Saturday, increasing the likelihood of additional, potentially dangerous encounters.
The USFWS will increase monitoring and hazing “with the goal of preventing further conflicts for the remainder of the season,” the agency said.
Why it matters
Grizzly 399 is arguably the world’s most famous grizzly bear, a successful mother who has raised numerous offspring in roadside areas of Grand Teton National Park. She has a fan base of photographers and grizzly bear advocates that closely follow her movements, even as she has begun to roam farther from her home in northern Jackson Hole.
Sunday a video camera recorded her on the west edge of Jackson where a four-strand electric fence can be seen protecting several small bee hives on a wall.
Advocates call 399, her offspring and other oft-seen grizzlies “ambassadors” who hold “rock-star status.” As such, they teach the world about grizzly ecology and behavior and generally promote support for wildlife, advocates say.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is worried about public safety. Although 399 has a good record, grizzlies can be aggressive when defending food or their young. As 399 has frequented residential areas more often, she has forced the federal agency to act.
Federal authorities hazed another roadside bear — called Felicia by her followers — on Togwotee Pass earlier this year. Officials said gawkers created traffic hazards on the highway between Dubois and Moran so they enforced no-stopping rules and scared the grizzly and her cub from the roadside.
The federal agency has authority over the grizzly bears because they remain on the list of threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act. The USFS and Wyoming have overseen successful recovery of grizzly bear numbers in the Yellowstone Ecosystem but court challenges stopped Wyoming, which had planned a hunting season, from overseeing management.
The Fish and Wildlife Service statement said it would continue to haze 399 where appropriate. The agency occasionally traps and relocates problem bears and has euthanized conflict bears in the past, including, recently, one of 399’s female offspring.
Who said what
Raiding beehives shouldn’t be seen as an unnatural grizzly bear act or count as a strike against the family, photographer Tom Mangelsen said Friday. He blamed “sloppy people” for creating part of the problem.
“You can’t blame 399, or any bear, for smelling meat” or honey, he said in a talk at the opening of the exhibit “While They’re Sleeping: A Story of Bears” at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Some beekeepers in Jackson Hole have successfully protected their hives with electric fences but still, “we are losing a hell of a lot of bears,” Mangelsen said.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide last week called for action in an editorial. “Bear-proof garbage cans should be required now, including municipal waste cans around town,” the paper said. Fully 6,800 persons in the county of 23,331 residents have signed a petition calling for mandatory bear-proof trash cans throughout the valley.The USFWS must contend with public safety, and it urged residents to follow its grizzly bear standards. Valley residents should “take immediate steps to secure attractants such as garbage cans, livestock feed, and compost piles,” spokesman Joe Szuszwalak wrote. Monitoring and hazing are designed to “prevent the need for further management actions,” he wrote.
This story was corrected to reflect that other agencies besides USFWS were involved with hazing 399 and her cubs, which are accurately labeled yearlings — Ed.