Yellowstone National Park officials has captured and killed a young male grizzly bear after it repeatedly showed aggressive behavior toward humans, most recently entering a campsite hear Heart Lake.
The grizzly was initially tagged and relocated by Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials in 2015 to the Caribou-Targhee National Forest after it “exhibited bold behavior around people,” a Thursday press release from Yellowstone spokesman Jonathan Schaeffer states. In 2016, the bear eluded park officials’ trapping efforts after it reportedly entered campsites in the Heart Lake area and destroyed tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads.
Park staff used a variety of deterrents in their attempts to change the bear’s behavior after the 2016 incident — including electric decoy tents, electric food sack decoys, bean bag rounds, rubber bullets and cracker shells — but the young bruin returned to the same area again last month, according to the release.
“On the evening of Aug. 26, the bear forced a group of three backpackers out of their campsite near Heart Lake and consumed all of their food,” the release states. “In response, Yellowstone closed the area to backcountry camping on Aug. 27 and set traps for the bear on Sept. 1. The bear was captured and killed on the morning of Sept. 8.”
The campers were eating dinner when the bear walked into the campsite, said Kerry Gunther, the bear management biologist for the park.
"It kind of just walked right in on them, huffing, and they backed out, which I think just about anybody would do," Gunther said Thursday. The bear had entered the same campground the year before, he added, along with other campgrounds near the lake.
Yellowstone Park lies in the center of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a 5.9 million-acre recovery zone for the species that is home to an estimated 700 grizzlies.
This is the 22nd reported grizzly bear death within the recovery zone so far this year, Gunther said. Last year, 58 bears were reported dead, and 61 died in 2015, according to statistics from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Gunther said the relative spike in grizzly mortalities during the previous two years is likely due to a combination of record-high visitation to Yellowstone and the bears' expanding geographic range throughout the area.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of the Interior moved to lift federal protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem, which were originally listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975 along with grizzly populations in five other recovery zones in Montana, Idaho and Washington.
Last month, conservation groups and Native American tribes filed suit against the department, rejecting arguments by some biologists that the Yellowstone population is sufficiently recovered, and alleging that the states do not have measures in place to adequately protect the population from a subsequent decline.