|The Yellowstone Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Management Subcommittee, which represents the state and federal agencies responsible for recovery of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, reports that dry conditions in much of the Yellowstone area during 2002 will lead to widespread bear activity and increased chance of bear/human encounters during the fall.
Reg Rothwell, subcommittee chairman, says landowners, hunters and other recreationists within the ecosystem should be especially careful this year because grizzly bears will be very active between now and the time they enter their dens. He adds people should be particularly careful about ensuring food and other attractants are secured and unavailable to grizzly bears. Increased grizzly bear activity since mid-August along the North Fork of Shoshone River west of Cody confirms the subcommittee's concerns.
The status of late summer and fall grizzly bear foraging appears to be mixed this year. Bears in the northern part of the ecosystem entered the summer in good condition due to the early season use of whitebark pine cones left over from last year's very good cone crop. However, whitebark pine surveys, which are conducted each year across the ecosystem to assess seed production, indicate low levels of cone production for 2002. Whitebark pine is one of the most important fall food sources for grizzly bears. Numbers of grizzly bear-human conflicts and management actions tend to increase during years of low cone production.
Rothwell, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's supervisor of Biological Services, reported that in the southeastern corner of the ecosystem, an apparent abundance of army cutworm moths may likely help offset the poor whitebark cone production during early fall.
G&F wildlife biologists have seen large numbers of grizzly bears feeding at moth aggregation sites since mid-July. Although army cutworm moths are an annoyance to many people during their early summer migration from croplands on the Great Plains to high elevations in the mountains, they are an important, high energy, late summer food for grizzly bears.
Berry crops appear to be good in southeastern portions of the ecosystem, but this food source will not last long into fall. Other plant foods, such as yampa and biscuit root, are also good this year in some parts of the ecosystem and will be available in lieu of other, preferred foods.
Rothwell noted that the dry conditions and mixed food availability this year will likely increase the number of nuisance bear incidents in the fall because many bears will be ranging widely as they search for food. There is high probability that many bears will move to low elevation areas, especially river and stream corridors, where moisture and foods are more abundant. When bears do move into low elevation areas, they often end up on private lands where food and garbage storage issues compound the problem.
Rothwell reported that state and federal scientists reported 42 unduplicated females with cubs to date in 2002, in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. The number of unduplicated females with cubs seen each year is used as an indicator of population status. "Final numbers will be available in mid-September after all sightings have been assessed," Rothwell said. "However, it is likely that a new record high count will be observed this year." Rothwell said the state and federal agencies encourage landowners and persons using grizzly habitat to make human-related foods unavailable to bears so we can minimize bear-human conflicts. Hunters should be particularly alert and exercise caution while stalking game this fall. Hunters should also remove the carcasses of harvested animals from the kill site as quickly as possible. Game should be hung a distance from hunters' camps and at least 10 feet high and 4 feet out on the limb from the tree trunk.
The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee includes members from the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks; the Shoshone, Bridger-Teton, Targhee, Gallatin, Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Custer national forests; the wildlife agencies of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Geological Survey.
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