By Ellen Fike, Jimmy Orr & Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
One of famed grizzly bear 399’s four youngest cubs was killed on Tuesday by Wyoming Game and Officials, the department’s large carnivore supervisor told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
On Tuesday, a two-year-old male grizzly, known as grizzly bear 1057, was captured and killed by wildlife officials due to being “highly human food conditioned” and because of “continued bold behavior around residences,” according to Dan Thompson, large carnivore supervisor for Wyoming Game and Fish.
“The decision was made based on the previous conflict history and current behavior of the bear,” Thompson said. “Management actions and subsequent decisions were conducted as a result of constant communication between personnel within the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Joe Szuszwalak, spokesman for the USFWS, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department requested the authorization to kill grizzly 1057 because of “dangerous behavior” of the bear and 13 previously documented conflicts.
Szuszwalak said a resident near the town of Cora tried to haze the grizzly from the front porch of a house with warning shots on Tuesday but the bear did not move or show reaction.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized this action out of concern for human safety as this bear became more emboldened in their behavior while seeking food rewards and habituation to the presence of humans,” he said.
Signs of Bad Behavior
Thompson previously told Cowboy State Daily that he was concerned about the safety of some of the cubs once they left the den, as there had been a few instances where the grizzly family was caught getting into human trash and finding other food rewards.
“This particular bear was taught this behavior the past two years from the maternal female,” Thompson said on Thursday. “The bear naturally dispersed from the natal area, traveling through an abundance of secure habitat absent of human occupation or residences before localizing in the current area over the past two months and actively seeking foods from houses and residences throughout the area, with the behavior of actively seeking human foods escalating in the past.”
It was not clear if this was the same cub of grizzly 399’s that was hazed away from a Jackson residential area in May, just days after breaking away from its mother.
Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Game and Fish declined further comment.
But Jack and Gina Bayles, wildlife advocates and guides in the Greater Yellowstone Area who run the popular website ‘Team 399,’ condemned the action.
“Things stay the same in Wyoming,” they posted on their Facebook page. “Cora, Wyoming has a population of 142 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Game and Department couldn’t figure out how to get them to put their food away so they executed 1057 instead.”
Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich told Cowboy State Daily that it was a “sad day for wildlife.”
“This is a failure on our part, a failure to eliminate rewards and reduce conflict,” Ulrich said. “I hate to see it come to this. We need to do better, we need to find better short and long term solutions that don’t involve authorized kills.”
Ulrich stood up for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said the department was doing “the best they can” but placed the onus on Wyoming citizens to do their part.
“We are encroaching, we are rewarding, and it’s our responsibility to change,” he said.
“Fed Is Dead“
Photographer Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven, award-winning wildlife photographer based in Jackson, blamed the bear’s behavior on humans that didn’t heed the warning that “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “Any animal that has to be put down is heartbreaking, because typically it involves, in the first place, people behaving badly.”
Vangoidtsenhoven referred in particular to a situation in 2021 in which a homeowner in the Solitude subdivision north of Jackson was investigated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for feeding grizzly bears – including Bear 399 and her offspring – at her home for years.
“It doesn’t mean that the bear is going to die because you feed it,” Vangoidtsenhoven clarified. “It means that the bear is going to be put down because it’s been fed,” and learned bad behavior, he said.
Vangoidtsenhoven expressed his frustration at a system that just “slaps the hands” of people who feed bears, because those bears lose their fear of people.
“The authorities who give the hand slap are the ones who know in the back of their mind, ‘This is probably a bear we’re going to put down in a year or two because of this,’” he said. “They just logically assume that in the future, if we see this bear anywhere near where people live, it is probably looking for food.”
“These four cubs, they were brought up in front of thousands of people,” Vangoidtsenhoven said. “And so you would think they are used to people, which doesn’t always speak in their favor as far as long term prospects of living a long and happy and healthy life.”
“It makes you fearful for the other three,” Vangoidtsenhoven said.
The cubs and grizzly 399 first appeared this season back in mid-April. They were escorted out of Jackson in November after being caught near houses, beehives and other attractants.