Yearling grizzly bears busted for getting into trouble and relocated are not any more likely to offend again than bears with a clean rap sheet.
“If a bear gets in trouble, it doesn’t mean it’s a chronic offender,” said Mark Haroldson, who conducted a study for the U.S. Geological Survey in Bozeman.
Although the research is still preliminary, Haroldson said the data came partly from information collected in the late 1970s and 1980s as bear managers sought to reverse the decline in grizzly bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by separating young bears from conflict mothers. The thought was that the mothers might be teaching the yearlings bad behavior.
“So we compared yearlings relocated with and without mothers,” Haroldson said.
The dataset was 53 bear relocations between 1981 and 2013, 28 yearlings with their mothers and 25 without. Bears moved without their mothers had “significantly more management” issues, maybe because there were more males in that group.
“It’s possibly because males are more aggressive,” Haroldson said.
Survivorship to reproduction age was no different between the two groups and their reproduction was about the same, as well.
One bear gave birth to 10 offspring and never got into trouble again.
“So she had a lot to do with increasing bear numbers in this region of the ecosystem, the south-central,” Haroldson said.
Another bear, first captured with its mother in Idaho in 1988 and again in 1989 after livestock conflicts, went 25 years without a subsequent run-in with humans before being euthanized at age 28. That was last month when the bear tried to reach grain stored in a bear-proof container near Jardine.
Haroldson said his research showed that almost half of the conflict bears lived to age 5, similar to other bears in the GYE population.
The problem nowadays, though, is finding a place to put conflict bears as more of them move to the fringes of the GYE as the bear population grows in the core area of Yellowstone National Park.
“It’s a little like herding cats,” said Kevin Frey, bear specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “There aren’t as many places to relocate trouble bears. So everybody’s job is getting tougher and tougher.”
Dan Thompson, of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said his agency is seeing more bears in rural subdivisions as the Yellowstone bear population has grown. He noted two bears were euthanized this year after frequenting the small community of Clark, Wyo., along the base of the Beartooth Mountains in northwestern Wyoming, not far from the Montana border.
“We’ve really seen an expansion outside the areas we monitor for bears since 1990,” Thompson said.
That expansion has led to livestock depredation: 189 livestock losses in Wyoming so far this year, 123 of them cattle.
“Other forms of conflict are actually pretty low,” Thompson said.
Sixteen bears were relocated in Wyoming and six were euthanized this year. In addition, WGFD removed almost 700 animal carcasses to lessen the chance of attracting bears to agricultural areas.
In southwestern Montana, Frey said FWP captured six bears, three of them for livestock depredation, out of 38 conflicts. Four bears were relocated and there were seven mortalities.
“We’re doing pretty good with conflicts,” Frey said. “Garbage and unconfined attractant numbers are way down. Now it’s mostly livestock depredation.”
So far this year, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team has logged 24 grizzly-bear deaths in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Twelve are under investigation, four of which are known to have been human-caused, and five grizzlies were euthanized after killing livestock.