Despite a concerted multi-agency effort to provide safe wildlife viewing of grizzly bears frequenting U.S. Highway 26 near Togwotee Pass, officials are now planning to step-up management efforts in order to maintain the safety of both wildlife and people.
“What started as just a handful of people occasionally watching a sow grizzly bear and her cubs has now turned into large crowds of people getting out of their illegally parked vehicles, creating a serious safety issue along this busy highway due to vehicles traveling at a high rate of speed as they pass by,” said Lieutenant Matt Brackin with the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
“This is not like a national park where motorists are traveling at much lower speeds and expecting to see wildlife with the public pulled over to wildlife watch. This is a major highway with numerous large semi-tractor trailers that can’t stop in short order to avoid stopped vehicles or excited pedestrians that are criss-crossing the road. It has become a significant safety issue.”
Wyoming state troopers plan to start citing individuals who have illegally parked their vehicles along the highway rather than parking in a designated legal pull-out.
Wyoming Game and Fish officials have begun to haze the sow grizzly bear and her cubs away from the road when conditions allow it to be done safely for both the bears and people. “Hazing wildlife away from busy highways and other areas of human development is a commonly-used practice to prevent a wildlife-vehicle collision or a dangerous encounter between people and wildlife,” said Dan Thompson, Large Carnivore Supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“As an agency, we promote safe and ethical viewing of wildlife, but unfortunately this has escalated into a situation that is not safe for people or the grizzly bears. Bears occasionally seen from a road are much different than bears that frequent these areas and become habituated to people. When allowed to persist, it only increases the likelihood for either people or bears to behave poorly, which can result in a human injury or death, or the grizzly bear having to be euthanized.”
All of the agencies involved are in consensus that these management actions are necessary for the safety of grizzly bears and people. People are reminded to heed all signs along the road and follow the direction of authorities from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Highway Patrol, U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“The efforts to recover our grizzly bear populations have afforded people unprecedented opportunity to see and photograph bears on a regular basis in northwest Wyoming,” said Thompson. “But with that comes the responsibility to do it safely and ethically for the benefit of both grizzly bears and people.”