Drought pushes resort bears downhill | VailDaily.com

Drought pushes resort bears downhill

JACKSON, Wyo. ” Bear conflicts in northwest Wyoming’s Jackson Hole region have increased sharply this year, in part due to hot, dry weather that has forced the bruins to look for food at lower elevations, state Game and Fish biologists say.

Grand Teton National Park also reports an increase in bear incidents, including one in which the bear had to be killed after he broke into a kitchen at Jenny Lake.

While Jackson Hole saw 34 bear incidents during 2006, this year the region is poised to pass that threshold by mid-July, Wyoming Game and Fish bear biologist Leon Chartrand said.

Game and Fish currently has several traps set up in the Jackson Hole area to catch problem bears. The captured animals will either be moved to a remote location in the woods or killed if they would likely continue to pose a threat to humans.

Subdivisions near Moose-Wilson Road, Teton Village, and the Aspens have seen the most conflicts, usually involving bears that get into garbage containers or bird feeders. So far, Chartrand reports few if any bear encounters that posed a danger to people.

The reason for the surge is partly due to a dearth of high-elevation foods, such as berries.

“It’s super-dry and there was late snow at the end of June,” Chartrand said. “We didn’t have much of a berry crop this year. Bears are headed for wet areas, which are usually residential areas.”

In addition, some people near public land boundaries haven’t taken enough precautions to keep bears out of human and pet food, Melissa Harrison, executive direction of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, said.

“They are using containers that are easy to get into, overfilling cans and setting them out overnight,” she said.

To help with the problem, Harrison, Game and Fish, and Bearwise Jackson Hole have partnered with the Teton Conservation District and the Teton Village Improvement District to provide 220 certified bear-proof containers for people who live in bear country. The group is trying to raise funds for another bulk order.

If the dry weather trend continues, bears seeking to pack on pounds for hibernation this coming winter could become even more likely to venture close to humans looking for calories. In Yellowstone National Park, biologists are expecting a low whitebark pine harvest, and bear foods in Grand Teton also will likely be in short supply.

“Usually it just progresses as the summer goes on,” said Mark Gocke, spokesman for Wyoming Game and Fish. “We’re seeing August conditions now. We’re expecting an increase in conflicts when bears start packing it on.”

While the drought likely explains the increase in bear activity in part, Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said humans are mostly to blame for the bears’ misbehavior.

“We’ve had food storage violations in almost every campground in the park regardless of our stepped-up be bear-aware campaign, which is discouraging,” she said.

– Defenders of Wildlife information on how to avoid bear conflicts: http://www.defenders.org/wildlife/bears/bearcountrybook.html.

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