Wyo. black bear conflicts increase

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:15 PM

Christine Peterson

Messy campers and dry weather have combined to make this early summer bear season a little worse than normal.

Bighorn National Forest officials implemented their first temporary food storage order in the Porcupine Creek area because of black bear issues. Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials have had to kill two black bears and relocate two others in Jackson Hole.

"Once bears learn that they can get food from people’s camps, they become very bold and very persistent," said Mark Bruscino, large carnivore management section supervisor for the Game and Fish Department.

"Forest users have a responsibility to be good stewards to the land and wildlife, and just like you don’t leave an unattended campfire, you don’t leave food unattended. That’s a death sentence for a bear."

Dry years are generally hard on both grizzly and black bears, especially as they search for food in the fall.

In the past several weeks, campers in the Porcupine Creek area have had aggressive attacks from one or more black bears in a developed campground and several issues at campsites away from developed areas. No one has been injured, said Dave McKee, forest recreation staff officer.

The first black bear incident this summer was when the bear came looking for soft drink bottles left out by campers.

"If you leave stuff out they will come into your camp," McKee said.

"We certainly don’t want to inconvenience campers, but it’s a safety thing - we don’t want anybody to get hurt."

Game and Fish officials trapped and killed one black bear in the area after it became habituated to human food and bluff-charged a camper.

Other campers with black bear incidents in the area have given varying descriptions of bears they encountered. Officials are waiting to see if problems persist before ending the food storage order, McKee said.

Game and Fish officials trapped and killed another black bear after it wandered near downtown Cody recently. The young male had been relocated last year for causing property damage and continued to do so even after its release.

"Given its history and the fact that this behavior was persisting because of improperly stored attractants, we felt we had no relocation options," Bruscino said.

Two young black bears were trapped and killed in the end of June in Alta, near the mouth of Teton Canyon. They broke into tents, a vehicle and caused property damage, said Mark Gocke, Game and Fish public information officer.

"They were far too conditioned to human food and were clearly becoming a human safety threat," Gocke said.

Officials trapped and relocated two other black bears in the area because they were frequenting a subdivision. They had not caused problems but were in an area where it would have become inevitable, he said.

Jackson Hole is near grizzly bear country, but black bears roam in a higher concentration in the areas where there has been trouble.

"We as a community need to be thinking these could be grizzly bears, too," Gocke said.

Bruscino cautioned that as fall approaches, bear activity could increase. Drought conditions often push bears into lower, greener country looking for food, which is where they run into humans.

"Black bears are dangerous to people," Bruscino said. "People should not let down their guard around them."

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