Yellowstone Bear Deaths on the Rise

Hunters, climate change blamed for an uptick in bear fatalities in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem
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Hunters, climate change blamed for an uptick in bear fatalities in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem

A booming bear population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem has created an unexpected consequence—more dead bears. Hunters in the surrounding areas have killed record numbers of bears, and no scientists fear climate change could push grizzly bears even further afield into human habitats, where they'll face understandably hostile humans.

While bears numbers around Yellowstone have been growing steadily (about 4-5 percent a year), humans killed 48 last year out of 71 total deaths, 20 of which were killed by hunters in self-defense or after mistaking the bears for another animal. If that trend continues, deaths will outpace growth, and grizzly bears could find themselves back on the Endangered Species list.

"Last year may have been one those fluke years,'' said Chuck Schwartz, a bear biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Last year could be the beginning of a trend."

To make matters worse, grizzly bears could face down more humans because of climate change. Warmer winters have allowed beetles to decimate whitebark pines, whose seeds serve as food staples for bears. When food staples come up short, bears are more likely to venture into areas occupied by humans for food, raising the chances for fatal encounters.

Still, U.S. Fish and Wildlife conservationists are hard at work crafting contingency plans to help keep the ursine death rate down. This includes encouraging hunters to use bear spray to deter charging grizzlies instead of shooting them.

Any hunters who need a refresher on fending off an angry grizz can check out our video tutorial, but I'm guessing they'll shoot first.

—Ted Alvarez

As Bears Die, Hunters and Climate Change Blamed (NY Times)