Whitebark Pine Stands
|An increased crop of whitebark pine cones this season in the northern Yellowstone Ecosystem could mean an increased chance of early-season big game hunters encountering grizzly bears in the high country.
The trails of early-season big game hunters often lead to stands of the light-barked, high-country tree, whose purple cones are the favored food of grizzly bears from early August until the animals head to hibernation dens in November.
Jay Lawson, Wyoming Game and Fish Department chief game warden, urges hunters to be aware of more than just their quarry. He suggests that hunters should avoid areas with fresh grizzly scat or excrement. Hunters should also leave areas harboring bear-excavated pine cone mounds where grizzly bears have raided food cached by red squirrels.
"Don't just key in on elk sign in the high country," said Chuck Schwartz, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. "Keep a sharp eye out for grizzly sign, also, to minimize chances of encountering a bear."
Hunters are also urged to pack their big game carcass out as soon as possible after the kill. If some of the carcass remains behind, hunters should move it as far as possible downwind from the gut pile and hang the meat in a tree, at least 10 feet high and 4 feet from the trunk.
Whitebark pine is generally found above 8,500 feet and is one of two high-elevation pines with five needles. The cones are on the end of the upward sweeping branches.
Schwartz reports that the improved whitebark cone crop exists from about Meeteetse, Wyoming north. "The southern portion of the ecosystem including the Dubois and Jackson areas, experienced a poor crop like last year," Schwartz said.
The scarcity of pine nuts makes it extra important for hunters in the southern reaches of the ecosystem areas to keep a clean camp and pack game out promptly.
Last year in the Yellowstone Ecosystem of southwest Montana, eastern Idaho and northwest Wyoming, 13 of the 19 human-caused grizzly bear mortalities were the result of altercations with hunters.
"It's very important to help reduce the number of altercations for both the recovery of the bear and human safety," Lawson said.
Literature about hunting and camping safely in grizzly country is available at wildlife agency and U.S. Forest Service offices in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Information is also available by calling the G&F at (307) 777-4600.
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