Grizzlies on the move

Mark Davis with the Powell Tribune, via the Wyoming News Exchange

POWELL — A Yellowstone National Park wildlife biologist on a radio telemetry flight Tuesday observed the first grizzly bear of 2023 to emerge from hibernation. 


The adult bear, estimated at 300-350 pounds, was seen near the remains of a bison carcass in Pelican Valley, near Yellowstone Lake. 


Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore biologists have yet to see signs of the species on the North Fork, but it could be any day now, said Dan Thompson, the state’s large carnivore section supervisor. 


“We usually expect a few bears to start milling around in March, but we would consider these “early risers.” We have not observed any grizzly bears out or verified activity this year ... yet. But any day I would expect us to get a call,” he said Wednesday morning. 


The first bear sighting of 2022 also occurred on March 7, according to Yellowstone spokesperson Morgan Warthin. 


As a general rule, male grizzlies begin to emerge from hibernaculum (their dens) in early March. Females with cubs typically emerge in April and early May. 


“When bears emerge from hibernation, they look for food and often feed on elk and bison that died over the winter. Sometimes, bears will react aggressively to encounters with people when feeding on carcasses,” Warthin cautioned. 


Northwest Wyoming, including the park, is bear country, and officials want to remind those heading to the hills to use caution and be prepared. 


“Spring visitors skiing, snowshoeing or hiking in Yellowstone National Park are reminded to carry bear spray and be especially alert for bears near carcasses and areas with early spring green-up. These are the first foods sought out by grizzlies after emerging from hibernations,” said Kerry Gunther, the park’s bear management biologist. 


Bear spray has proven effective in deterring bears defending cubs and food sources, the park advises. It can also reduce the number of bears killed by people in self-defense. 


While firearms are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm by visitors is a violation of park regulations. 


The park restricts certain visitor activities in locations where there is a high density of bears, along with elk and bison carcasses.


This story was published on March 10, 2023.


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