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This has been the deadliest season for human-bear interactions in Yellowstone already (two mauling deaths so far), and biologists worry that it could get worse. There’s a scarcity of nuts from whitebark pine trees, which squirrels usually bury in caches that get raided by hungry grizzlies eager to put on fat to survive the winter. Without these abundant sources of fat and protein, researchers worry that bears might get desperate and bold around people. Right now they’re offering ominous advice:
“Pack your bear spray: there’s going to be run-ins,” said grizzly researcher Chuck Schwartz with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Warmer temperatures have allowed beetles to decimate whitebark pine, a major natural food source for bears as they enter hyperphagia before bedding down for the winter. Experts expect the danger to be worse in the populated areas outside the park, where hunting season will soon be in full swing and gut piles could attract scores of bears. To counter the paranoia, the AP article helpfully offers:
Full-grown Yellowstone bears can stand 6 feet tall and top 600 pounds. They have been known to peel off a man’s face with a single swipe of their massive, clawed paws.
Gulp. Regardless of how terrifying the bears might be, these situations are almost always worse for them: 22 grizzlies have already been removed or killed because of human-bear interaction, and the number will almost certainly rise.
AP via The Goat