Bears have recently emerged from hibernation in and around Grand Teton National Park, and once again, park visitors and local residents have the unique opportunity to witness the natural activities of grizzly bears and black bears throughout the park. Home ranges for some bears include roadside areas of Grand Teton, bringing them in close proximity to people. Consequently, safety precautions must be exercised to secure the continued health and welfare of bears throughout the park, and to ensure the safety of visitors. During the next few months, a cadre of park employees will be monitoring and managing roadside wildlife watching in an effort to make sure that people maintain a safe distance not only from bears, but also from other animals such as bison, moose, and elk.
Among the grizzly bears that make their home in Grand Teton is a family that includes bear #399, a twelve-year-old female, and her three two-year-old cubs. This foursome became a highly-visible attraction along park roadsides and developed areas during the 2006 and 2007 seasons with hundreds of admirers regularly stopping to photograph and observe them at close range. Over her lifetime, #399 has become comfortable using habitat in close proximity to roads and other developments, and is now habituated to humans. Nonetheless, she and her cubs remain wild, naturally foraging bears that are potentially dangerous. Because grizzlies usually wean their young after two full years, grizzly #399’s cubs are expected to be on their own and fending for themselves sometime this spring or summer. They may continue to roam near people and park roads in the absence of their mother, making them more vulnerable to humans and their activities. One or more may also venture outside the park in search of new home ranges.
Park biologists and Wyoming Game and Fish biologists (who have responsibility for bears outside the park) want to ensure that the cubs remain wild and reliant upon natural food sources only. The fate of these and other bears could easily be influenced by careless park visitors or local residents who approach the bears too closely, or store food and other bear attractants (such as bird feeders) inappropriately. Inside the park, food storage regulations are in force and must be complied with at all times. Visitors are also required to keep a safe distance from bears at all times; the recommended distance to maintain from any bear (black or grizzly) is 100 yards—the length of a football field.
Wildlife managers want to avoid the need for management action on these and other bears and are requesting the public’s help to ensure that they do not come into contact with artificial food sources. When bears become conditioned to human foods or threaten human safety, relocating them to remote areas or in extreme situations removing them from the population sometimes becomes necessary.
A temporary wildlife closure will be implemented from May 15 through July 15 in the Willow Flats area below Jackson Lake Lodge, in order to prevent human-bear encounters in an area where elk calving annually occurs, and bears actively pursue this abundant food source. Signs will be posted to alert visitors of the closure area and inform them of associated safety concerns.
To keep all grizzly bears and black bears wild and free, people must practice good “bear aware” etiquette and be responsible while recreating in Grand Teton National Park. For further information about being “bear aware,” please consult the park’s newspaper, Teewinot, visit the park’s Web site at www.nps.gov/grte, or stop by any park visitor center.