Game and Fish investigates grizzly bear attack on Upper Green sheepherder
Pinedale — The Wyoming Game & Fish (G&F) investigation into circumstances that led to a grizzly bear mauling an Upper Green sheepherder early Sept. 14 points to a natural sequence of events.
Preliminary reports just hours after the incident reported the sow killed two guard dogs and attacked sheepherder Marcello Tejeda, 46, of Rock Springs, as he tried to rescue one of the dogs.
G&F’s further investigation revealed no dogs were killed and later Pinedale bear management specialist Zach Turnbull said the herders call bear cubs “puppitos” and that was likely the source of confusion.
Tejeda was life-flighted from the Pinedale Clinic to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls with puncture and claw wounds to his head, chest, ribs and back. His condition was upgraded from “serious” Monday to “fair” Thursday according to medical center spokesperson Nancy Browne. Turnbull said he believed Tejeda was released Friday, Sept. 18.
“Our people responded immediately upon getting the call,” said Mark Bruscino, G&F grizzly bear management supervisor.
Turnbull and fellow bear specialist Brian DeBolt of Lander reenacted the event with Tejeda’s fellow sheepherder Jorge Mesa, who wasn’t injured and called his employer Mary Thoman and the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) to get medical help for Tejeda.
Another G&F specialist interviewed Tejeda in Idaho Falls for his account of events, Bruscino said.
The two herders were camped in a tent near two night pens, one built several years ago and another temporary electric-fenced compound, where they had gathered two bands of sheep to bed them, according to Bruscino.
“Marcello left the tent with Jorge Mesa at about 2 a.m. to chase what he thought were coyotes because he had heard some coyotes yipping earlier,” Bruscino related.
When the guard dogs began barking Tejeda presumed they were after coyotes and set off into the sheep. After leaving the tent, Tejeda and Mesa saw a dead sheep and a grizzly bear sow with two cubs.
“The bear charged him and as he tried to retreat he fell and while he was on the ground she bit him,” Bruscino stated. Tejeda rolled over and the bear again bit and clawed him.
Both of the men had bear spray and two empty canisters were found at the site when he arrived, Turnbull said, adding Mesa sprayed toward the bear but thought he missed it. He was treated at the Pinedale Clinic for pepper spray in his eyes.
“It was just a few seconds and she gathered up her cubs and left,” Turnbull said.
Tejeda met back up Mesa, who made the calls.
Friday, Bruscino said Turnbull and DeBolt updated him periodically from the Upper Green as they continued searching the area for the culprit. They confirmed a lamb was killed and a yearling ram injured that morning that had to be put down.
The investigation continues because there are still bear predations in the sheep and the team wants to monitor what bears are there to get “a better picture,” according to Turnbull. The task of finding one specific bear is problematic.
“There’s evidence of several bears in the area including other bears with cubs and there have been during the summer,” Bruscino said.
A lamb killed the night of Sept. 16 and another the next night, he confirmed, and DeBolt said there were no kills Thursday night.
“Since there are continuing depredations, we are trying to capture the bear or bears causing that,” Bruscino said. Once a bear is trapped, he said, all information will be considered before a decision is made whether to relocate or remove a grizzly.
“It is important to understand – this is very understandable behavior in a grizzly bear,” he said. A female with cubs of the year being harassed by dogs, with a carcass on the ground – one of these much less all those things combined are known to provoke grizzly bears.”
On Sept. 21, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, Mont., ruled in a lawsuit brought by Defenders for Wildlife that grizzlies must be returned to federal protections offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The grizzly bear had been delisted in 2007 and was managed by the states’ respective wildlife agencies – in Wyoming, by the Game and Fish Department.