CODY — A grizzly that had been venturing into the city limits of Cody was hazed and driven off by wildlife officials over the weekend, a potent reminder that northwest Wyoming is bear country.
In fact, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is recommending Cody residents carry bear spray or another deterrent when venturing out into the wilder parts of town and try to stay in groups.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department told Cowboy State Daily that the agency was notified that a male grizzly had been spotted along the Shoshone River near the Paul Stock Nature Trail, a 2-mile loop trail on the northern edge of Cody. The report prompted a multi-day investigation, during which the trail was closed to the public.
Wyoming Game and Fish personnel monitored the grizzly all day Saturday while the Cody Police Department blocked entry to the trail. Residents adjacent to the trail were notified of the situation.
“We hazed the bear out of the area on Sunday, Oct. 15, as a preemptive move,” said Breanna Ball, spokeswoman for Wyoming Game and Fish. The agency use “a method of aversive conditioning to negate the habituation of that area.”
Hazing is “an immediate management response” Wyoming Game and Fish uses to move animals out of an area using negative reinforcement, Ball said. Once the grizzly was hazed, it moved westward and away from Cody.
Signage has been installed on the trail, which is again open to the public, and Ball assures Cody residents that there is no risk to the public.
Cowboy State Daily originally incorrectly reported the bear had been captured.
Ball said Wyoming Game and Fish cannot unilaterally make a decision to capture a grizzly, given they are an endangered species. Any captures and relocations must be approved through and coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Each situation is handled on a case-by-case basis,” Ball said about when bears come into close contact with humans. “Our team considers the cause and severity of the incident, the bear’s behavior, the level of habituation, and the level of food conditions in some circumstances.
“Every situation is unique, and our response is based on the totality of information for each situation.”
In this circumstance, hazing was determined to be the best approach to drive and keep the grizzly away from the area, which is within the limits of the city of Cody.
Ball said Wyoming Game and Fish will continue monitoring the Paul Stock Nature Trail and the surrounding area. If that bear returns, or any other grizzly comes in, the agency will reevaluate the situation.
Barely, But Still Some Risk
Most people living in Cody won’t expect to encounter a grizzly on a sidewalk in town. However, Ball said this weekend’s situation is a reminder for caution in populated areas within habitats where grizzlies freely roam.
“Wyoming is bear country,” she said. “Grizzly populations are dense and robust throughout northwest Wyoming, so there’s always a chance that residents and recreationists can encounter them.”
In September, a grizzly found roaming in pastureland near U.S. Highway 14-A between Cody and Powell was euthanized because it was showing signs of habituation that made its removal from the population necessary.
“We don't ‘punish’ bears for expanding beyond suitable habitat,” Wyoming Game and Fish Large Carnivore Specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily after the incident. “It is not the bears' fault the population is beyond carrying capacity within the suitable habitat of the demographic monitoring area, despite being still listed as a threatened population.
“That being said, we do not promote grizzly bears outside of suitable habitat and deal swiftly with bears involved with conflicts or habituated to human activities in these areas, including a litany of efforts that range from outreach and electric fencing to that of management operations involving relocation and/or removal.”
Ball recommends people in Cody carry a deterrent, like bear spray, and know how to use it when they wander into the wilder areas surrounding the town. They should also recognize bear signs — scat, tracks and diggings — wherever they go and try to stay in groups.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at email@example.com.