The following is a portion of an article from the Jackson Hole News & Guide. CLICK HERE to be directed to the full article.
By Cory Hatch
The Greater Yellowstone’s grizzly population is now large enough that some bears are expanding to locations in Wyoming where they haven’t been seen for decades — places where they could face trouble, bear managers say.
These grizzly sightings have occurred far from what biologists consider suitable habitat, places like the Gooseberry drainage southeast of Meeteetse, desert environments in the Bighorn Basin and the Big Sandy area of the southern Wind River Range, said Mark Bruscino, bear management program supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“This year we’ve had several bears documented in places where we didn’t expect bears to show up,” he said. The Gooseberry drainage bear is “the farthest east we’ve known a grizzly bear to be in the last 50 years.
“In the Bighorn Basin, even though historically bears probably used these riparian corridors out in this desert environment, they haven’t been seen there in many years,” Bruscino said.
Other odd locations for grizzlies include Heart Mountain north of Cody and areas south of Lander.
The grizzly population has grown at about 4 percent per year since the species was first protected in the 1970s.
Biologists conservatively estimate the population at more than 600 grizzlies, up from an estimated 224 in 1975.
Some wildlife managers say there could be as many as 1,000 grizzlies in the ecosystem.
As the population has grown, so has its range, said Chuck Schwartz, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader. In the 1970s, the estimated range encompassed nearly 6,000 square miles.
By the 1980s, that territory had grown to 6,500 square miles, then to nearly 8,900 square mile in the 1990s, and to 13,000 square mile through about 2000.
The most recent estimate has grizzly bears occupying about 22,000 square miles.
Schwartz cautioned that the formula used to calculate those numbers has evolved over the years, but he said it still gives a good picture of how the bear’s range has expanded.
“Back when the bear was listed, in the ’70s, bears were left in Yellowstone National Park and some of the surrounding wilderness,” he said. “Since about the late ’90s, we are beginning to see bears show up in places where people never thought about grizzly bears.”
Outside of Wyoming, bears have ranged as far as Dillon, Mont. On July 1, The Seattle Times reported a bear in the North Cascades of Washington.
The estimated 22,000 square miles currently occupied by grizzly bears is well beyond the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service primary conservation area, a 9,200-square-mile area encompassing Yellowstone National Park and some of the surrounding forest that is a federal recovery zone for the species.
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Source: Jackson Hole News & Guide
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