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Grizzly Bears

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.

The move toward removing grizzly bears from the endangered species list is waiting for the outcome of ongoing litigation, despite the fact that the population is fully recovered.

“The estimate for the core population for 2012 is 593 bears – that is in the recovery zone and surrounding area,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) bear management specialist Mark Bruscino. “The population is probably considerably larger than that – probably around 700 to 900 bears in the entire Greater Yellowstone Area.”

“Biologically, the population has recovered and met all recovery goals,” adds Bruscino. “The grizzly bear population has continued to grow at between four and seven percent each year for the last 15 years.”

The current method of estimating the Yellowstone grizzly bear population involves counting unduplicated sow grizzly bears with cubs-of-the-year and using statistical analysis of data to estimate total bear numbers.  

Another method being evaluated is a mark-recapture technique, described by Deputy Director of the WGFD John Emmerich at the Aug. 26 meeting of the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.

A basic assumption of the mark-recapture technique is that all bears are equally observable.    

“We mark most of the bears in the front country, yet see very few marked bears in the back country. Is that because marked bears make up such a small portion of the population so they are not observed compared to unmarked bears, or because front country bears are not using back country areas?” asked Emmerich. “We are not sure, so the basic assumption needs to be evaluated before this technique can be used with any confidence. ”

While the state has also investigated a modified mark-recapture technique that utilizes hair samples which are assigned to individual bears through DNA analysis, the labor intensive, very expensive approach has not been pursued due to lack of funding commitments from potential partners.  

Emmerich also reported that the current conservation strategy calls for managing the Yellowstone grizzly population above 500 animals, a level that current conservative population estimates indicate is exceeded by at least 100 bears.

Emmerich, in reviewing the history of the grizzly bear recovery effort, says, “The grizzly bear was listed as threatened in 1975, two years after the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.”

“From the late 1970s, the WGFD has been very involved in grizzly bear recovery efforts in terms of managing damage, monitoring bear numbers and managing mortality, all of which have been instrumental in the recovery,” says Emmerich.

“By 1999, all the demographic objectives had been met,” Emmerich continues. “The number of females with cubs-of-the-year we were seeing in our counts, and the distribution of bears in the bear management areas, had met established recovery objectives.”

Emmerich explains that all the planning documents were in place for habitat protection and for conserving grizzly bears by 2003. However, before the move to delisting can take place, litigation must be resolved.    

“Litigation is over two issues – the adequacy of the science around the importance of white bark pine nuts to the long-term recover of grizzly bears, and the adequacy of regulatory mechanisms that will govern grizzly bear management,” explains Bruscino. “The case is currently appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, Calif. ,and we are awaiting a decision.”

The appeal hearing occurred six months ago as a result of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appeal to Judge Donald Molloy’s decision. Molloy sided with a coalition of environmental groups on the two issues in a Missoula, Mont. hearing.

“All the management agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, disagree with Judge Molloy’s ruling,” says Emmerich. “There are adequate regulatory mechanisms, and the reduction of the white bark pine is not a major factor in the long-term survival of grizzly bears.”

“If we completely succeed in the litigation, then we will move toward delisting within a few months,” comments Bruscino. “We are looking forward to a decision, and we hope to have one sometime by early 2012.”

With an increased number of bears, some conflict with livestock and humans is seen. Conflicts with bears are affected short-term by the amount of annual, natural food available and long-term by the trend in bear numbers and distribution, says Bruscino.

“I would call this year an average year for the number of conflicts we saw,” says Bruscino. “However, last year was our worst year ever and that was in light of a really poor natural food year. This year was a pretty good natural food year, and we see the number of conflicts go down pretty significantly when food is available.”

“Over the long-term, we have seen an increase in conflicts as bears recolonize multiple use lands outside of Yellowstone Park and in the core wilderness areas,” notes Bruscino. “We have also seen an increase in livestock and property damage conflicts.”

The long-term trends are also affected by bears living in a lot of “highly-managed landscapes,” according to Bruscino, who notes those areas see high recreational and agriculture use, as well as industry use.

As Wyoming and the WGFD continue to wait for a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court, the WGFD has developed a considerable education program to help people prevent or manage conflicts, as well as prevent conflict through bear-proof installations.

The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is one of five grizzly bear populations in the northwest that is being recovered, including the northern Continental Divide population and three others that spread into northern Idaho and Washington.

Emmerich says, “The Greater Yellowstone population is one that has met all recovery goals. It is time to delist and return management responsibility to state wildlife agencies.”

Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By all accounts, the grizzly bear delisting rule announced last week for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is the welcome result of years of collaboration and millions of dollars.

It also marks a change in how ranchers, recreationists and officials connected to Sublette County – from the Upper Green River Basin (UGRB) to the south end of the Wind River Range – can continue to reduce conflicts and learn to live with the grizzly.

Population spread

Many in the western half of Wyoming are well aware that the GYE grizzly population, protected under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Endangered Species Act, has spread out from its initial core in Yellowstone east to Park County and south to Teton and Sublette counties.

The grizzly trekked up the Gros Ventre River and funneled through the top the Upper Green River and now works its way down along the Wind River Range.

Many believe this grizzly bear population is well recovered. The protected grizzly’s recovery has continued under the state’s watchful eye.

“Wyoming Game and Fish (WGFD) has continued to be the leader in management of grizzly bears for the last 30 years in consultation with the FWS,” said WGFD spokesman Renny McKay. “The people of Wyoming have already invested $40 million in this over these 30 years.”

WGFD monitors GYE grizzlies and consults with FWS about which to remove or relocate. It also compensates ranchers for confirmed livestock losses, mainly cattle and sheep on forest allotments.

Rancher perspective

People in the UGRB the Wind River Range have paid for recovery in other ways, he added, with lost income, increased danger and added requirements.

“These people are committed to find a way to live with grizzly bears,” McKay said. “It’s changed the way they recreate, live and earn their livings in Sublette County – this delisting is a testament to that commitment.”

WGFD’s Pinedale Region’s Fiscal Year 2013 damage reports shows it second only to the Cody Region with 20 claims and $130,591 in compensation to producers. Last year WGFD captured and moved or killed 45 grizzlies, mainly in the UGRB.

Pinedale cattle rancher and House Rep. Albert Sommers and his fellow UGRB grazing partners are permitted on the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) where sheep and cattle are heavily preyed upon.

Last year, grizzlies killed 80 of their cattle and ranchers came up short 290 calves.

“I’m pleased we’re going down that path,” he said as a legislator and rancher. “It’s long overdue.”

Their UGRB permits allow 7,000 animal units, although fewer are run. Sommers is less concerned about losing BTNF permits than “us being able to withstand” such depredation.

“Ultimately, we don’t raise beef to feed bears,” he said dryly.

Reducing conflict

UGRB sheep and cattle permittees still experiment on ways to reduce conflicts, he added.

“We changed some pasture rotations last year. That seemed to help,” Sommers said. “This year, we’re looking at cattle movement changes to see if it helps. We’re examining a larger suite of tools to see if any of them fit.”

Permittees operate under the UGRB grazing environmental impact statement (EIS), which is due to be released soon, Pinedale District Ranger Rob Hoelscher said recently, and it doesn’t address delisted grizzlies.

“The grizzly bear is still ‘listed’ until a delisting decision is made. Therefore, we would not anticipate making a decision on UGRB that would conflict with the current FWS biological opinion,” Hoelscher said in a later interview.

After they are “officially” delisted, BTNF won’t need to consult with FWS on potential impacts such as grazing, he said.

As grizzlies move south, the BTNF’s expanded food-storage temporary rule just turned permanent – which applies to everyone now beyond Boulder Creek, he added.

Welcome

As a Boulder rancher and Sublette County Commissioner, Joel Bousman, with BTNF grazing permits at Silver Creek against the south Wind River Range, agreed the delisting announcement is welcome.

“The grizzly population is well beyond the original numbers determined to provide for population sustainability,” he said. “With a return to state management, the livestock industry will be in a better position to survive economically. As always, the closer management decisions are to the state and local level, the better the decisions.”

As a rancher, Bousman feels the effects of grizzlies moving well south of the UGRB.

“We do not have a loss count as our allotment is almost all in wilderness and is so rugged geographically that we hardly ever see the kills until it is too late to verify the cause,” Bousman said. “The times we had FWS confirm, so many predators predated on the kill that they couldn't tell who was first.”

He added, “We are just starting to get female grizzlies denning on the south end of the Winds and so far no kills verified there.”

The BTNF did not write a “just in case” paragraph for delisted grizzlies in its forthcoming UGRB grazing EIS, according to Hoelscher.

Forest policies

However, delisted grizzlies “automatically become a U.S. Forest Service ‘sensitive species’ and several of the existing protections would remain in place to keep it from being relisted, such as food storage requirements, carcass disposal, etc.,” he said.

“If and when the final FWS decision is made to delist, it is not known what that will entail,” Bousman said. “There will likely be monitoring requirements and protection measures left in place to aid in the continued viability of the (GYE) species.”

BTNF’s “management tools also serve as public safety aids,” he said.

“So, when a final decision is made, U.S. Forest Service will need to assess the changed circumstances and evaluate all of our decisions based on what those circumstances are before we change anything,” Bousman commented.

Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and reporter at the Sublette Examiner and Pinedale Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

On June 22, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear under the Endangered Species Act. The delisting decision was made after U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were recovered.

“Grizzly bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives since 2003 and have long warranted delisting. In 2013, I asked Secretary Salazar to delist the grizzly bears and much work toward this end has been done. I appreciate that FWS is proceeding now with the delisting,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said. “The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which includes the FWS and Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), must be commended for its years of great work. Thanks to the team effort, grizzlies will be managed appropriately by our experts at WGFD. I thank all involved in the delisting effort.”

Praise for the effort

Wyoming’s congressional delegation also praised FWS for its work and the delisting decision.

“I am pleased to see the administration recognizing the recovered status of the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone area,” U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said. “Grizzly bears in Yellowstone have been recovered for many years, so it is good to see management returned to state hands where it belongs. This is great news for Wyoming.”

  U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) continued, “We already know the grizzly bear has fully recovered in Wyoming. After years of Washington moving the goal posts, Wyoming should be able to move forward with managing our wildlife. The grizzly bear’s recovery demonstrates just how capable Wyoming is in effectively recovering threatened and endangered species.”

  “For years, the Obama administration failed to acknowledge the successful hard work and dedication of the state, tribal and federal partners, which led to the healthy recovery of the grizzly bear population inside the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). “This welcome decision to delist the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act rightly returns management of the Yellowstone grizzly to where it should be, under the control of experts in Wyoming, not Washington.”

In the state, Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Ken Hamilton said, “The number of grizzly bears has long since reached recovery goals in the area, and by taking this action, we feel it will provide the management flexibility that can help ranchers in the area better cope with the impacts of these large carnivores.”

Hamilton added, “Wyoming will now be able to provide state management over wildlife that is impacting our state.”

Controversy

However, the decision does not come without some controversies.

High Country News cited five specific aspects of the decision that struck a particular chord with environmental groups.

Tribal nations, including the Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, signed the Grizzly Treaty, which commits them to restoring and revitalizing grizzly bears across North America.

Other are concerned about state management plans, which could allow hunting. Wildlife advocates fought against delisting, but managers in many areas say that bear populations are on firm ground.

When the delisting rule was first proposed, more than 650,000 public comments were received by FWS, which delayed the decision, but ultimately, the bears were delisted.

Conserved species

WGFD noted that the state has spent over $45 million on grizzly bear recovery and management while the species has been listed.

They also noted that WGFD has managed bears for many years with the approval of FWS. Management for the future will continue under the guidance of the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan.

“The recovery of grizzly bears is a success all of us can celebrate. It took an incredible amount of commitment and work by diverse interests to get to such a health and viable population of bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” WGFD Director Scott Talbott.

All states have mechanisms in place to ensure grizzly bear populations will remain above criteria, according to WGFD. States will also coordinate management efforts.

Populations are conservatively estimated at 690 bears currently inside the Demographic Monitoring Area, and the largest portion of that population is in the state of Wyoming.

The delisting goes into effect 30 days after the Federal Register listing of the decision.

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from numerous press releases. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Since the recent delisting of grizzly bears from the endangered species list, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) held nine public meetings to gather input from the public.

WGFD asked the public to identify issues with the Wyoming grizzly bear management plan and provide ideas and suggestions for changes the public would like to see in the management plan.

The last public meeting was held as a Facebook live event on Dec. 5, titled “Grizzly Bear Management Conversation,” where people could comment and ask questions in real time.

WGFD Communications Director Renny MacKay, WGFD Wildlife Division Chief Brian Nesvik and WGFD Large Carnivore Program Supervisor Dan Thompson hosted the event.

“This is a very exciting time in the history of grizzly bear recovery, and WGFD is glad to be having these conversations, which we hope will continue the grizzly bear dialogue,” said MacKay.

Delisting

Nesvik discussed how the recent delisting of grizzly bears has affected WGFD and explained why public meetings were held across Wyoming.

“On July 31, 2017, management of the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, spanning Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, was turned over to the states. This means WGFD needs to implement our grizzly bear management plan, which was approved by the WGFD Commission in May 2016,” stated Nesvik.

He said the purpose of the public meetings was to present information about the grizzly bear management plan to the public and then to receive input and feedback.

“I think it’s important to note these meetings are not  part of a formal regulation process. The meetings are open-ended conversations to check in with the public and hear their thoughts before WGFD makes any proposals to the WGFD Commission,” he noted.

Background

To provide management plan information, Thompson gave some background on WGFD’s grizzly bear recovery plan.

In the recovery plan, WGFD follows three primary recovery criteria for grizzly bears. The first criterion is population level, which ensures there are 500 grizzlies in a demographic monitoring area (DMA), which allows consistent monitoring.

“Five hundred grizzlies are necessary to maintain genetic variability for the adequate reproduction of the population, which has been maintained well above 500 bears since 2000,” he noted.

The second criterion focuses on the primary conservation area, which holds 18 bear management units where females with new cubs, yearlings and two-year-olds are documented.

“In the last decade, the density within the conservation area has been maintained, but the density has expanded beyond the core area into new areas,” stated Thompson.

Evaluating mortality rates on an annual basis is the third criterion, according to Thompson.

He mentioned, in 2005, grizzly bears were delisted, and mortality thresholds were set in place, regardless of population size.

“Newer thresholds allow for more flexibility, so if the population is higher, a higher mortality rate is allowed,” he explained.

Female grizzly mortality rates were above the threshold at times but are mostly below the threshold, while the male mortality threshold has never been exceeded, added Thompson.

Management plan

The five main components of the WGFD grizzly management plan, are monitoring, research, conflict resolution, outreach and education, and hunting, explained Thompson, noting information provided by the public will be compiled to provide feedback.

In terms of monitoring, WGFD annually captures grizzly bears to collar and mark them so a representative sample of the population can be maintained.

“Every bear captured provides great insights into reproduction, annual and daily movements, diet, habitat use, body condition and more for the population,” said Thompson.

WGFD also conducts aerial and ground observations of DMA sites every summer. All data goes into the evaluation of the overall abundance of grizzlies and female distribution of reproduction, he noted.

“The question WGFD is asking the public is, what ideas do they have for current and future monitoring strategies of grizzlies?” Thompson stated.

Research and monitoring data are connected, noted Thompson, but he thinks it is important to increase knowledge to better manage the grizzly bear population.

“For decades, WGFD has focused on demonstrating the recovery of grizzlies, but I think we need to start looking at more questions,” he explained. “What is the public interested in with grizzly populations? What kind of information should be pursued by researchers for grizzlies?”

Conflict management is another criterion, which is an essential component of large carnivore conservation, according to Thompson, and requires trained professionals to handle conflicts.

“WGFD has dealt with the conflict between grizzlies and people since the 1970s, but grizzlies have expanded into new areas and more human dominated landscapes, which leads to more unique challenges,” he stated.

“The public is extremely interested in conflict management, so the question is, what ideas and suggestions does the public have for on-the-ground conflict management of grizzlies?” he added.

Outreach, education and hunting

WGFD outreach and education is intricately linked to everything else the department does for grizzly bears, Thompson mentioned.

In 1991, education efforts were launched to reduce conflicts between people and grizzlies and to educate the public.

“Starting in 2005, WGFD initiated the Bear Wise Community Program west of Cody, which was extremely beneficial and gained a lot of public ownership to assist in the recovery of grizzles,” he stated.

Based on the success of the program, WGFD expanded the program statewide, and according to Thompson, the program is the foundation of grizzly conservation management.

“WGFD is definitely looking for ideas and suggestions to build on the success of the Bear Wise Community Program,” he added.

Finally, the last criterion of the grizzly bear management plan is the hunting of grizzlies.

While the other four criteria have been in place, some for decades, grizzly bear hunting has been absent for multiple decades, noted Thompson.

“In the WGFD grizzly management plan, there is a tri-state memorandum of agreement that is part of the Montana and Idaho plans, conservation strategy and delisting movement. The memorandum is the guiding document for the allocation for the amount of bears that would be available for hunting,” Thompson stated.

He noted the idea of hunting grizzlies is controversial but thinks it is important to mention that the grizzly population can sustain hunting within the government’s mortality restraints.

“WGFD is asking the public what their ideas and suggestions are for hunting grizzlies in Wyoming. We are looking for insight into structure and regulations,” Thompson said.

“Mainly, WGFD is looking forward to absorbing all the ideas, issues and concerns the public has and will use those thoughts to frame our grizzly bear management plan,” he added.

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..