August 23, 2010

Experts Warn Of Possible Yellowstone Grizzly Attacks

Bad news for those planning to visit Yellowstone this fall--the favorite food of the park's grizzlies will be in short supply, meaning that the bears will be hungrier and more likely to pursue other sources of protein, according to researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

"Pack your bear spray: there's going to be run-ins," Chuck Schwartz of the USGS told Matthew Brown of the Associated Press (AP) on Sunday, noting that the shortage of nuts from whitebark pine cones could lead to more confrontations between campers, hunters and hikers, and the up to six-foot tall, 600-pound bears looking to add weight in preparation for hibernation.

According to Brown, "Two people have been fatally mauled by grizzlies so far this year in Wyoming and Montana. Experts said that's the most in one year in at least a century for the Yellowstone region"¦ In the latest attack, a Michigan man was killed and two others injured when an undernourished bear and her three cubs marauded through a crowded campground near Cooke City, Mont. on July 28."

In 2009, the Yellowstone grizzlies were returned to the threatened species list, in part because of the whitebark pine shortage. According to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) website, they were initially listed as a threatened species in 2006, and in 2007, they were removed from the threatened list after it had been determined that they had made a significant recovery under the government's recovery plan.

A Monday report by the UK newspaper the Telegraph notes that officials said that the recent maulings "should serve as a warning as bears begin to push to lower elevations."

"Hazardous encounters with humans are considered most likely outside Yellowstone National Park, in occupied areas along the fringes of the bears' 14,000-square-mile wilderness habitat," Brown said. "Hunters--their high-powered rifles notwithstanding--are particularly exposed because they do exactly what the experts say not to: They sneak around in the underbrush at dawn and dusk, often alone and making elk calls to lure in big game--and the occasional hungry bear."


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