More bears is leading to more human conflicts

By VIRGINIA HOLST/Montana State News

In recent years, human encounters with grizzly bears have been on the rise. Since 2010, there have been seven fatal grizzly attacks in the Northern Rockies, according to the Washington Post.

“During the past two decades, the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has increased in numbers and expanded its range,” according to The Journal of Wildlife Management in 2010.

The increased number of grizzly bears is due to the Endangered Species Act, under which the species has been protected since 1975. The population within Yellowstone National Park has grown to nearly 700 from its original 136 at the time of their listing. This is beyond the original target population set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which has been suggesting delisting grizzlies since 2005.

According to a journal by the University of British Columbia, “Bear attacks on people are on the increase. Many people do not agree with killing problem bears but the wildlife service lacks the ability to live-trap and transplant every problem bear.”

In 2001, a study in The Journal of Wildlife Management showed that bears “showed strong selection for some low elevation habitats,” meaning that they are increasingly likely to come down out of the mountains and encounter humans.

Human safety isn’t the only concern, though. Grizzly conservation is also impacted. In 2004, a study in The Journal of Wildlife Management showed that the high population numbers and close human encounters are dangerous for grizzlies, too. They wrote, “Numbers of reported hunting-related grizzly bear mortalities have increased in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem during the last decade.”

The National Parks Service suggests that “reducing conflicts with people is the key to grizzly conservation.” Delisting the species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argues, would create a lower grizzly population, and lead to less unfortunate encounters for both bears and humans.

– edited by Tyler Barton

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