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Are Humans Killing More Grizzlies?

Since August, five Greater Yellowstone grizzlies have been killed by hunters and anglers in self-defense. Why?

Five grizzly bears have been killed by hunters and anglers in Greater Yellowstone in the last three months. The grizzly count is going up, and so is our human population. Photo by Jake Bortscheller/NPS
Five grizzly bears have been killed by hunters and anglers in Greater Yellowstone in the last three months. The grizzly count is going up, and so is our human population. Photo by Jake Bortscheller/NPS
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by Julia Barton

A hunter fatally shot a charging grizzly bear at close range on Oct. 21 in the Gravelly Range near Ennis, Montana. The female grizzly, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was healthy and lacked a known conflict record and appeared to have been building a den near where the run-in occurred.

The incident marks the fifth grizzly reportedly killed by recreationists acting in alleged self-defense in areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Idaho since August. No such incidents have been reported in Wyoming.

FWP reported that two grizzlies were killed under similar circumstances by hunters and anglers in two unrelated incidents in the Tom Miner Basin on Aug. 30 and in Beattie Gulch, an area north of Gardiner, on Sept. 23. In Idaho, a male and female grizzly faced the same fate after charging archery hunters near the Island Park Reservoir and Henry’s Lake on Sept. 1 and Sept. 30 respectively, according to Idaho Fish and Game.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is home to an estimated 965 grizzlies, wrote U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in their 2022 Grizzly Bear Recovery Program Annual Report, a number double the estimated 136-300 grizzlies residing in the region when they were first listed as a threatened species in 1975.

Grizzlies are expanding their range back into places they haven’t inhabited in more than a century, says the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. This increase, paired with more people living and recreating in the Greater Yellowstone, is putting more bears in closer proximity to humans, thus increasing conflict potential.
Data from IGBC annual reports. Graph by Julia Barton
Data from IGBC annual reports. Graph by Julia Barton
Of the 46 known and probable grizzly bear deaths in the GYE included in the 2022 IGBC Annual Report, 40 can be attributed to human causes, including six self-defense killings. Grizzly deaths have, on average, been increasing over the past decades, mirroring population increases, with a large percentage consistently attributed to human causes.

Despite their growing population, grizzlies in the area may likely face food stress in the coming years as a result of human interactions and climate change.

Recreationalists can take a number of precautions to minimize the likelihood of running into bears, including traveling in groups, making noise and avoiding animal carcasses. IGBC notes that many of these suggestions, however, contradict the practice of hunting, making it particularly difficult to decrease hunter-grizzly conflicts.
Perhaps the most common recommendation from experts for folks recreating in bear country is to carry and know how to use bear spray. In the event of a grizzly attack, fewer humans and bears are injured when bear spray is used rather than a firearm.
Julia Barton
About Julia Barton

Julia Barton is a freelance journalist and communications specialist based out of Bozeman. A Montana native, she earned a journalism degree from the University of Southern California and reports on the environment, outdoor recreation and the arts.
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