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An ongoing investigation by Grand Teton National Park rangers, with assistance from Wyoming Highway Patrol, has clarified the circumstances around a vehicle accident that resulted in the death of a young male grizzly bear on June 21. The driver of the vehicle, a 29-year-old Pennsylvania man, sustained minor injuries and his sedan incurred significant damage.
The preliminary investigation has determined that a southbound vehicle slightly swerved to avoid a young grizzly bear that was trying to cross the highway. That unexpected maneuver caused the northbound vehicle to also swerve, over correct, and veer off into the sagebrush on the west side of Highway 26/89/191. At some point while the vehicle careened through the sage, it collided with the bear-the animal was not struck on the road surface. The vehicle came to rest about 80 feet off the road. Findings from the accident scene reconstruction suggest that neither vehicle was speeding at the time of the incident. The daytime speed limit on this highway is 55 mph.
The young bear was still breathing when park rangers arrived at the scene, but it died shortly after. Grand Teton National Park biologists removed the carcass and took hair and tissue samples as well as a tooth, which determines the age of the bear. Biologists will submit a hair sample for DNA testing to determine whether this bear is related to identifiable grizzlies within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team conducts research on grizzly bears throughout the 22-million-acre GYE as part of a long-term effort to monitor the population. The hair sample will be matched with available data collected by this interdisciplinary group of scientists and biologists. The team has obtained data on grizzlies through biological samples and radio-collar tracking since 1973. The team is composed of representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the States of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
This is the first bear fatality caused by a vehicle on park roads this year. However each year in Grand Teton, an average of one or more bears (grizzly and/or black bears) are involved in vehicle collisions that result in the injury or death of the animal.