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Idaho Fish and Game

Fall Is Harvest Time For Grizzly Bears Too!

Yellowstone Ecosystem - As cooling evenings and shortening days signal the onset of autumn, the instinct to prepare for the coming winter is triggered in both man and animal alike. Sometimes, the similar reactions of the two hunter-gatherers to the coming autumn result in chance meetings. The result of these encounters depends on many variables, but the outcome needn't be fatal for either. In order to help monitor habitat conditions, as well as predict food availability, biologists within the Yellowstone Ecosystem started to track important grizzly bear food sources such as whitebark pine cone crops back in 1980. A multi-agency conglomerate of state and federal resource managers handle management efforts concerning grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. The lead agency responsible for the recovery of the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, but a total of a dozen other national forests, national parks, and state wildlife agencies manage the habitat and regulations that affect the bear on a daily basis. Although bears are omnivores that feed on a variety of food sources and will eat just about anything edible that is available, certain foodstuffs make up major components of their annual diet. In the Yellowstone Ecosystem the four major dietary components that are monitored are whitebark pine cone crops, winterkilled ungulate (deer & elk) carcass counts, army cutworm moth numbers, and spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout population numbers. The results of reports regarding information on whitebark pine cone production for this year have just been tabulated and released. Although cone production for 2000 was poor, many observers reported considerable numbers of last year's cones still on trees, and on the ground. According to the report, " The mean 1999 results of 39 cones per tree was the 2nd highest observed since we began reading whitebark pine transects in 1980. Whitebark pine scats have been found throughout the spring and summer, indicating that grizzly bears have been using last year's cones all year. " Biologists are hopeful that grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem will continue to utilize this residual food resource throughout the fall. While conditions across the ecosystem were prime for forest fires, they fortunately also resulted in certain areas reporting record wild berry crop numbers. These combined factors may have led to the relatively few food related conflicts with humans so far this year. Biologists warn that because so many variables are unknown, this situation could change at any time. As bears prepare for their winter hibernation they go through a process called hyperphagia. The underlying goal of this sub-conscious calling is to consume as much food as is available; so as to result in the most stored fat possible. As bears increase their foraging, conditions could result that grizzly bears may be more wide ranging in their search for food this fall, and may not be restricted to higher elevations. Hunters and other recreationists should be aware of this and take appropriate measures to avoid encounters with grizzly bears. As always, food security and clean camps in the backcountry should be emphasized. Recent publicized successes of bear pepper spray to deter attacking grizzly bears should serve as encouragement to anyone traveling in bear country to carry bear pepper spray and be familiar with how and when to use it. For further info contact YES/I & E COMMITTEE CHAIRPERSON GREGG LOSINSKI at IDAHO FISH & GAME 208-390-0635.