Grissly Bear Management Concepts Grizzly Bear Management









History of Grizzly Bears within Yellowstone

"There are many different images of grizzly bears in public view". "Those visions of fear, intimidation are often expressed along with those of beauty and respect." "For many the grizzly bear is considered by many to express the quality and depth of wild places." (Unknown)


Historical Land Issues

Historically, grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) roamed over much of North America, from the mid-plains westward to California and from central Mexico north throughout Alaska and Canada. Now their range has diminished down to just a small fraction of their original landscape (Maps). Average total home ranges were historically 884 km≤ for females and 3757 km≤ for males (Blanchard & Knight, 1990). It is said that humans have diminished the range and numbers of these bears by 98% through habitat alteration as well as direct killings. Between 1800 and 1975 their population in the lower 48 states decreased from estimates of more than 50,000 to now less than 1,000 (these numbers vary). Grizzlies were actually eliminated out of much of the west by the late 1800ís from mountainous areas being settled, livestock depredation control, hunting and the increasing perception that grizzlies threatened human lives. As well as the habitat deterioration, commercial trapping, unregulated hunting and development contributing to human bear-conflicts were also leading causes for the animals decline before they were listed as a threatened species.


Harvesting Reports

With their numbers diminishing fast, the grizzly problem emerged in the 1960ís. In Wyoming, harvest of the bears occurred up to 1968 without any restrictions and from 1970 to 1974 a limited number of licenses were issued in Park and Teton counties. Before 1969, there was no mandatory hunter reporting of harvested grizzly bears. So, as of today the data on annual harvest is incomplete. After 1970, mandatory reporting was instituted which has made the records more accurate. However, known harvest during the four years ranged from three to eight animals and the number of permits decreased from as much as 30 in 1970 to as low as 12 in 1974. From 1975 until present there is no legal sport harvesting. Although, there are still incidents of "accidental" death caused by hunters. As in 1997 between September 25 and October 26, 8 grizzly bears were accidently killed by hunters. (Mortality)

Photo: Library of Congress

Wyoming Management

During the early part of the 20th century, management of grizzly bears did not receive much attention within Wyoming. As far back as 1899 Game and Fish Law of Wyoming made no mention of grizzlies in their management strategies. Although, in 1903 the State Game and Warden Report stated it would be considered to be a misdemeanor to hunt, trap, or kill grizzly bears within any National Forest Reserves in the state of Wyoming, except during open game season. Unless otherwise posted, hunting season for grizzlies corresponded with elk and deer hunting season, so residents and non-residents with elk/deer licenses could kill one bear as well. In 1937, grizzly bears were classified as game animals on most national forest or they were thought of as predators in the remainder of the state. Predatory animals could be taken at any time and by most means, whereas game animals could be hunted with dogs or trapped but with the approval of the game warden. Grizzly bears when looked upon as predators faced a tough battle.


Closing of the Dumps

Major changes in foraging strategies of the grizzly bear population precipitately occurred due to the closing of the large dumps within Yellowstone National Park (1968-70) and adjacent to the park (1973-1984). Bears were once commonly observed along roadsides and within developed areas due to the availability of human foods in the form of garbage and unsecured camps. The closing of these dumps (policy) were aimed at the problem that bears were being to reliant on humans and the goal was to restore the bears back to a natural foraging diet. As part of the bear management program implemented, regulations prohibiting the feeding of bears were strictly enforced. In addition garbage cans were also bear-proof as to reduce human-bear conflicts.


Restoring the Grizzly Bear

After the decline of the grizzly bears was noted, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the bear as a threatened species in the lower 48 states under the authority of the Endangered Species Act on August 1, 1975. A primary goal of the ESA is to recover populations of threatened or endangered species to self-sustaining, viable populations that no longer need protecting under the act (Gunther et al., 1995). (ESA) This conclusion required Federal agencies to:

1.) Utilize their authorities to carry out conservation programs for listed species;

2.) Insure that their activities not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species;

3.) Insure that their activities or programs not result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.

The United States Department of the Interior (USDI) also largely defined management goals within Wyoming. In 1983 the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) formed to study, collect data and form guidelines to restore grizzly bears back to its natural level (actors). The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Guidelines has been in various stages of development since 1975 with the Shoshone National Forest unit leading the way in preparations.To accurately restore the grizzly bear, specific management measures were developed by various National Parks, National Forests, Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and state wildlife agencies.The guidelines were eventually submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and then approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.The management guidelines are to serve as the basis for the aggressive pursuit of the objectives of conserving grizzly bears and their habitat.Grizzly management guidelines for each of the five resource management systems; the guidelines are grouped under the headings:

1.) Maintain and Improve Habitat;

2.) Minimize Grizzly-Human Conflict Potential; and,

3.) Resolve Grizzly-Human Conflicts

The approach to the goal of the grizzly bear conservation is through these guidelines and the attendant Management situations.These guidelines are subject to change as research provides additional information.



Grizzly bear populations have risen and fallen frequently throughout time. The year of 1996 was an excellent year for the bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem according to Kerry Gunther (National Park Service Biologist). There was an excellent food supply, high cub reproduction and few bear-human conflicts. That year only 74 bear conflicts happened compared to 144 in 1995 and Gunther attributes it to the wet spring, which allowed for good vegetation, moths were in high numbers and a large whitebark pine crop flourished. All these situations made for a less aggressive and shy animal.

However, the table turned in the year 2000 showing you really can never tell what will happen in nature. The Fish and Wildlife Service and Parks dept. collect data for the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. The data indicated for the year 2000 showed at least 23 moralities (human-caused), and 16 deaths that were caused by hunter-related deaths, and 5 killed by agency management actions. Among those numbers there were also 7 natural deaths as well as 1 grizzly mortality caused by a rancher protecting his dog. Totaled with 2 unknown causes of death all together left 5 yearling cubs to defend for themselves. The year 2000 also brought poor whitebark pine cone crops, which left grizzlies to look elsewhere to store the fat they needed for hibernation.

With grizzly bear numbers changing from year to year itís difficult to accurately estimate population. However, it is said that within the lower 48 states, grizzlies can be found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and some even believe in Washington. About 250 are estimated to be within Yellowstone National Park, 350 can also be found in northwestern Montana, 25 in the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho and another 20 can be found within the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. However, the number of grizzlies now present in these areas to the best of our knowledge is not based on a valid estimation scheme (Eberhardt, Knight 1996). The grizzlies are although reaching a point of possible equilibrium and the discussion of de-listing is the question of the hour. Scientists, non-profit organizations, the public and the government all have their opinions on what's best for the grizzly bears; only time will tell their fate.  



Wyoming Game and fish department

Fish and wildlife service - species profile

USFWS - The endangered species act