Press Release

A Tale of Two Bears

Unlike television crime shows where police get DNA lab results back in a matter of hours, nonemergency related DNA work can take weeks, or even months before results are known.

This summer humans were involved in two surprise encounters with bears in Island Park. The results are back from the lab in Canada, and they confirm the bears involved in the attack were grizzlies.

Both grizzlies first became known to biologists as part of Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team efforts when they were captured and monitored as part of ongoing scientific research. DNA samples are collected from every grizzly bear trapped. One was bear 533, a 21-year old female, and the other was bear 556, an 11-year old male. Trapped at different times and places, both bears had subsequent run-ins with humans at different times and places, but in similar circumstances.

Both incidents this past summer involved research technicians working in the field who surprised bears that were apparently resting in day beds. In each case the bears were surprised at close range and reacted by charging the humans, making contact and biting some, but not all the humans present, and then running away. In both cases the victims were able to walk out and receive medical assistance.

The female that bit a wildlife technician monitoring grizzly habitat had last been involved in a situation above Island Park Reservoir in 2009 when a hound hunter released his dogs on what he thought was the scent of a black bear, but turned out to be the female grizzly who had cubs at the time. The sow chased the dogs back to the hunters, overran part of the group and ended up biting one person before she ran away.

The male bear that was surprised by technicians doing a forest health survey this summer had been involved in a surprise encounter with an elk hunter in the fall of 2011 near Last Chance. The bear in that case bit off one of the man's fingers, then ran off.

In these instances, the DNA samples collected could be connected to known bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, but they could have easily come from bears that had not been known. Many of the grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem have never been trapped, and even fewer are fitted with radio collars at any given time. The bears involved in these incidents had previously worn radio collars but are not collared at the present time. Prior collar data from these bears indicates that they cover large distances in search of food and to den and do not limit themselves to just living in Idaho. Grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem have been shown to use all types of habitat as part of adjusting to seasonal variations of available foods.

"Grizzly bears usually make every effort to avoid humans," said Chris Servheen, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator. "The best way to stay safe in grizzly habitat is to make noise so the bears know you are in the area, hike or recreate in groups, and carry and know how to use bear spray."

Successful recovery of the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone Ecosystem means that along with a healthy black bear population, grizzlies can also be found in many portions of the Upper Snake Region. It is important that people who head out to the woods and those who live in close proximity to the national forests be Bear Smart.

In the woods, it is important that humans make their presence known, be observant about the presence of bears, and know what to do if they encounter a bear. Those living and recreating in bear country should consider what they can do to reduce the chances of creating attractions for bears.

Information regarding all aspects of bears can be found at: