By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
The total number of grizzly bear deaths in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is likely at least three more than the current official tally of 28, a federal biologist said.
Three cubs in Grand Teton Park that bear enthusiasts said went missing in June are likely dead. They can’t be officially added to the mortality list, because solid evidence, such as carcasses, have yet to be found, biologist Frank van Manen said in an email to Cowboy State Daily.
Van Manen is the supervisory research wildlife biologist for the U. S. Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which includes members from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The team monitors and studies grizzlies throughout Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks, as well as on public and private lands adjacent to the parks in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Grizzly 793, commonly called “Blondie” had three cubs this year, but they disappeared in early June, said bear enthusiast Jack Bayles. He’s a member of Team 399, a bear advocacy group that posts photographs and videos of Grizzly 399, a bruin with a worldwide fan base. Blondie is another popular bear the group watches.
“She had her cubs with her one night, and didn’t have them the next morning,” he said.
Blondie lingered in the area for a while, possibly searching for her cubs. She also hasn’t been seen since June 12, although it isn’t unusual for her to stay mostly out of sight during the summer, Bayles said.
It’s unlikely the cubs survived, van Manen said. Typically, 46 percent of grizzly cubs don’t survive their first year, he said, although hard evidence is lacking regarding the fate of Blondie’s cubs.
“We don’t have evidence in hand of cub mortality for 793’s litter; she is not a radio-monitored bear,” he said. “The only cub mortalities that are included in our mortality list are those for which we have hard evidence (e.g., carcass), or for those instances where the mother is killed and we assume probable mortality of cubs-of-the-year.”
Two cubs of the year are known to have been killed by another bear on May 28 in the Gibbon River area of Yellowstone Park, according to the grizzly bear study team’s mortality list. They are the only cubs of the year officially listed as killed so far this year.
The total official
Those 11 bears were killed either for preying on livestock or “food-conditioned” aggressive behavior toward humans, according to information posted online by the grizzly bear study team.
Overall, grizzlies seem to be doing well as summer wanes into fall, Game and Fish large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. Birth rates remain healthy, and food sources seem plentiful as the bears seek ways to fatten up in preparation for winter hibernation.
“We have no evidence of bears having difficulty putting on enough fat prior to the big sleep,” he said. “Honestly, I think we don’t give grizzly bears or other wildlife enough credit for their overall resilience.”