Grizzly bears are expanding the range of their habitat in the Greater Yellowstone area, and scientists are predicting an uptick in the number of conflicts between humans and bears.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s lead scientist, Frank Van Manen, said expansion rarely occurs without an increase in population size. Since 1975, when the bear was listed as an endangered species, Van Manen said there’s been a gradual expansion of the grizzly bear east around Red Lodge and south into the Wind River Range. Van Manen said this could cause growing pains since it will increase the likelihood of conflicts between humans and bears.
“In recent years, we’re increasingly seeing expansion into areas where we don’t really see a lot of great grizzly bear habitat,” said Van Manen. “They can make a living, but it’s not the best habitat simply because there’s more human influence on the landscape—more ranchers, more roads, towns, and such. And so the likelihood of conflict just is greater, and we’ve seen that in our data.”
Van Manen said reducing such conflicts is harder in places with more private land because there’s less state and federal management options available.
“We now see grizzly bears for decades, or sometimes even longer, maybe for a hundred years,” said van Manen. “It’s understandable that people living in those areas that are suddenly confronted with the presence of grizzly bears, have to make some adjustment that takes time. It takes time.”
Van Manen said electrical fencing and the proper bear-proof garbage disposal are a good idea.
In the meantime, management could be given to states as early as June when the Yellowstone-area grizzly bear may be taken off the Endangered Species List.