Park Bear Managers Taking Action to Ensure Public Safety

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Date: August 12, 2009
Contact: Amy Vanderbilt, 406 888 5838
Contact: Wade Muehlhof, 406 888-7895

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Glacier National Park officials announced today that a very difficult decision has been made by park managers to remove a 17-year-old female grizzly bear and her two yearlings from the park’s grizzly bear population. This decision was made after the family group repeatedly entered human-occupied backcountry campgrounds this summer. Park rangers are currently working to locate the bears in the park’s backcountry in the vicinity of Cut Bank Valley.

Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright stated, “Unfortunately, this entire family group of grizzly bears has become overly familiar with humans.” He explained that this is a condition in which a bear repeatedly and purposefully approaches humans in a non-defensive situation. Cartwright added, “Park resource personnel have worked to keep this bear and her offspring in the wild for five years, but given her recent display of over-familiarity in combination with her long history of habituation, we have determined that the three grizzlies pose an unacceptable threat to human health and safety; and therefore, must be removed from the park.” The bears have been closely monitored in recent weeks. The decision to remove the bears came only after a thorough review of events and the bears’ overt “conditioned” behavior toward human contact.

Glacier National Park’s internationally-vetted Bear Management Plan and Guidelines specifies that conditioned bears that display over familiarity must be removed. There are no zoos currently willing to take adult bears. Every effort will be made to capture the yearlings and relocate them to the Bronx Zoo in New York; however, at this time the priority is to locate and remove the female. Several documented encounters in July indicate that the female is highly conditioned to humans as defined by Glacier National Park’s Bear Management Plan and Guidelines. That, coupled with the female’s history of human interaction dating back to 2004, led park managers to determine that the bear poses an unacceptable risk to public safety, and must be removed in accordance with the park’s Bear Management Plan and Guidelines.

Glacier's bear management policy is to maintain natural population dynamics and, to the extent possible, promote natural behavior in the presence of humans. So far in 2009, two separate incidents have been documented where the female grizzly has exhibited behavior that could be classified as “repeatedly and purposefully approaches humans in a non- defensive situation.”

The female has frequented the Morning Star and Old Man Lake backcountry campgrounds, both in the Two Medicine/Cut Bank area repeatedly for the last five years. During that time, the female grizzly has produced two sets of cubs. Throughout this time, both the mother and her offspring have  approached hikers, forcing them off trails, have come into cooking areas while people yelled and waved their arms at the bears, and sniffed at tents during the night. Numerous efforts have been attempted to haze them and aversively condition the bear and her young to avoid human interactions, but those efforts have not proven successful. Aversive conditioning is the application of negative reinforcement aimed at behavior modification. Rangers have used noise, Karelian Bear Dogs, and other non-lethal stimuli to encourage the grizzly to keep away from humans and backcountry campgrounds.

The grizzly bear is protected by the Endangered Species Act, and as such, every effort was made to deal with the bear’s conditioning to humans in a non-lethal manner. With those efforts failing, rangers cannot, in accordance Glacier National Park’s Bear Management Plan and Guidelines, allow the bear to remain in the population and pose a potential risk the safety of the park’s visitors.

“Glacier National Park’s Bear Management Plan and Guidelines are dynamic management tools that receive periodic international peer review. The plan and guidelines clearly state the conditions of how we manage Glacier’s bear populations, both black and grizzlies. These tools also reflect the best available knowledge and management techniques that bear managers can employ,” said Cartwright.  “This decision [to remove the family of grizzlies] is the result of Glacier’s ongoing coordination with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency charged with administering the Endangered Species Act.“

- NPS -

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Last updated: February 24, 2015

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