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Contact: Amy Vanderbilt, 406-888-5838
Contact: Wade Muehlhof, 406-888-7895
WEST GLACIER, MONT. - True to her nickname, the “Oldman Lake Bear,” the female grizzly bear that park personnel have been tracking in recent days and her two yearling cubs were observed Monday afternoon, August 17 about 300 yards away from, and heading towards, the backcountry campground at Oldman Lake. After descending from Pitamakan Pass, two park rangers armed with rifles, simultaneously shot and humanely-killed the adult bear at approximately 4:30 p.m. Monday, Glacier National Park officials report. Rangers were about to close the backcountry campground when they spotted the bear family group. Backpackers were in the Oldman Lake campground when rangers spotted the bear heading that way.
Park rangers were at Pitamakan Pass hiking south from Morning Star Lake toward Oldman Lake when the group of three observed the female and her two yearling cubs traveling the family group’s previously observed route into the backcountry campground at Oldman Lake.
After the female was killed, rangers arranged for helicopter support and to retrieve drugs to dart and tranquilize the two yearlings that remained in the vicinity. The yearlings were darted over an hour later. One cub died shortly after being tranquilized. Rangers attempted to resuscitate the yearling by performing mouth-to-nose CPR, but to no avail.
Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright says “The unintended death of this yearling grizzly is a very unfortunate outcome of a very difficult operation. The National Park Service will conduct a thorough review of the cause of death of the yearling, but we are also relieved to have captured the other yearling.” A necropsy (animal autopsy) will be performed after the carcass of the dead yearling is transported to the state laboratory in Bozeman.
“Unfortunately, this entire family group of grizzly bears had become overly familiar with humans.” Cartwright 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 worked to keep this bear and her offspring in the wild for five years, but given her most recent display of over-familiarity in combination with her history of habituation, we determined that the three grizzlies posed an unacceptable threat to human health and safety; and therefore, needed to be removed from the park.” The bears had 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 from the wild population. No zoos or other federally-authorized captive facilities were willing to take an adult bear at this time.
Documented encounters this July indicated that the female was 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 posed an unacceptable risk to public safety, and needed to 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, three separate incidents had been documented wherein the female grizzly exhibited behavior that could be classified as “repeatedly and purposefully approaches humans in a non- defensive situation.” The female was again demonstrating this same behavior on Monday afternoon when she was shot and killed approaching Oldman Lake campground. “Given the possibility that her offspring had learned this type of overly-familiar behavior and the diminished chance of their survival, we simply could not leave the yearlings in the wild. We deeply regret the loss of the one cub, but are thankful that the other yearling will soon be transported to the Bronx Zoo,” Cartwright stated.
The female had frequented the Morning Star and Old Man Lake backcountry campgrounds, both in the Two Medicine/Cut Bank area repeatedly since 2004. During that time, the female grizzly produced two sets of offspring. Throughout this time, both the mother grizzly and her offspring approached hikers, forcing hikers off trails, came into cooking areas while people yelled and waved their arms at the bears, and sniffed at tents during the night. Numerous efforts were attempted to haze the female and her offspring away from backcountry campsites. Since 2004, a variety of aversive conditioning techniques were used to discourage the bear and her young from human interactions. Aversive conditioning is the application of negative reinforcement aimed at behavior modification. Rangers used noise, Karelian Bear Dogs, and other non-lethal stimuli to encourage the grizzly to keep away from humans and backcountry campgrounds.
“Every effort was made to deal with the bear’s conditioning to humans in a non-lethal manner; however, in accordance with Glacier National Park’s widely reviewed Bear Management Plan and Guidelines, the NPS could no longer allow this overly-conditioned bear to remain in the population and pose a potential risk the safety of the park’s visitors,” said Cartwright.
“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. “As a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, the decision to remove the family of grizzlies was not taken lightly, but was the result of Glacier’s ongoing coordination with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency charged with administering the Endangered Species Act.“
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