Grand Teton’s most famous grizzly bear just tragically lost her only cub


Just last month, at long last, a well-known female grizzly bear named No. 399 emerged from her long hibernation at Grand Teton National Park. Walking beside her was a single, blond-faced cub, named Snowy by local bear watchers.

This was a big deal for a couple of reasons. First, she was alive, which proved the Wyoming hunter who had boasted of killing her months before had been bluffing. Second, this 20-year-old grizzly is, as a columnist for the Jackson Hole News and Guide put it, “the most famous living wild bear on Earth.” She is an adored “roadside bear” who’s super easy for tourists to spot, and even has a book and a Twitter account dedicated to her. Even a hiker mauled by her and her cubs back in 2007 pleaded for her life to be spared.

But sadly Snowy was just killed by a car who did not report the collision.

In a statement, the park said that the cub was one of two bears killed in one night by drivers who did not report the collisions. An adult female black bear was fatally struck on the same road a few hours before 399’s cub, bringing the total number of Grand Teton animals killed by cars this year to 37.

“These unfortunate incidents are an important reminder for all of us to slow down and be vigilant when we travel through the park,” said Superintendent David Vela.

The mother bear had dragged Snowy’s carcass to the side of the road, about 40 yards from the road. The park said its biologists found the carcass and removed the body, which the park said will be “preserved and used for educational purposes.”


Grand Teton's most famous grizzly bear just tragically lost her only cub - travels

In the Spring of 2020, just like the sprouting of spring wildflowers В venerable old Grizzly 399 again emerged from her winter lair to forage in the valley of Jackson Hole where she is often spotted digging for ground squirrels, wild onion, Yampa root, and Indian potato around Grand Teton Park, remarkablyВ though, this yearВ at twenty-four years she had В quadruplets trailing at her heels, her legendary sage grows.

Tiny bundles of fur, shy and trepidatious upon arrival at the grizzly/human interface within days they got with the program of cub folic and exuberant antics to the delight of visitors, fans, advocates photographers, reporters, movie makers, oh, and me.

Nine, years ago I was amazed when she showed up with triplets because of her age of seventeen. The average lifespan for a female grizzly is twenty-six years old, if all goes well and all run theВ gauntlet of survival obstacles.

She is often seen from the roads of Grand Teton National Park where we photographers and wildlife watchers of Jackson Hole and Yellowstone have become amateur cognitive ethnologists and theorists have concluded that #399’s predilection for frequenting areas rife with humans may be purposeful. Our ethological-projection is merely guesswork by amateurs, but we surmise that #399 has determined that as annoying as we humans are, we are not dangerous. Conversely male grizzlies are the greatest threat to bear cubs. Male bears kill cubs to expedite breeding because female bears won’t come into heat as long as they are nursing cubs. Male grizzlies steer clear of human congestion, therefore congested national park habitat may be safer for sows with cubs than deep wilderness habitat.В Because of the high mortality rate of cubs and exponentially so with larger cub-crops the likelihood of her making it to her winter den with a complete batch of cubs was very slim.В

#399 has been an amazingly prolific grizzly having produced a likely twenty cubs and they keep on coming.В An average birth two cubs, however, before the quads #399 produced 3-sets of triplets. After every cub-crop we always wonder whether she is too old to emerge with new cubs the following spring, she has been surprising us with more cubs every time we wonder this. Today it seems grizzlies have opted to leave menopause to humans. Quadruplets aren't only just unusual for this bear, this is only the eleventh crop of quads since they started counting such things in the Greater Yellowstone Eco-system in 1970.

Constantly vigilant the queen of the Tetons kept an eye on this impossible brood as they mimicked their mom in forage, roughhoused, had tugs of war with valuable sticks, В played chicken with the road, and seemed to be competing in a cuteness contest for the ever-present crowds that couldn’t get enough of them, her task was huge but handled it with the aplomb.

Hide and seek in the sage, you think it is hard to find a child hiding in a cloths rack at a department store.

Photographing grizzlies is one of my biggest thrills since I am now too old to ski down a double black diamond slope, much to the peril of the rest of my photographic checklist. Retrospectively I often self-flagellated myself for driving past beautiful sunrises and gorgeous scenery in the hopes of getting to a grizzly hot spot where a grizzly may not show up at all.В В The anticipation of the thrill of finding these amazing predators especially #399 causes me to jettison all photographic pragmatism if the hopes of capturing that perfect grizzly moment.В When she showed up with quadruplets, I quadrupled my effort to photograph the complete crew before one or two were picked off by amorous male grizzly, a pack of wolves or hit by a speeding car.

Hi everyone

I had felt it quite amazing that previously I had seen and photographed two of the eleven quads which had me feeling quite lucky, I was the only person, in the know who witnessed the second batch, but biologists upon hearing through the grapevine of my encounter took a plane up, found then confirmed the sighting. Achieving a third set now has me fearful of risking lightening photography as luck can be bad as well as good.

Before #399 showed up in Grand Teton Park in 2006 grizzles were rarely seen and it was a lucky day even inВ Yellowstone if you got to see one as well, they were rare because of the population crash of 1970 put them on the endangered species list.В How things have changed, #399 is an ambassador for the grizzlies, whoever watches #399 foraging in a meadow with cubs in tow, often become advocates for this rare species. The Yellowstone grizzly may be removed from the endangered species list soon and Grizzly #399 has certainly been doing her part to make it so.

There had been many worrisome moments over the summer, concerned fans from all over the world kept watch on social media for every new tidbit of information and every cool photo in suspense and worry for the well-being of this Ursus Arctos clan. So many things can go wrong with a brood of four. Three-ninety-nine lost a lot of weight over the summer from the nursing of four, caution kept her out of the Teton Wilderness region of her range we suspect for fear of the male grizzlies, consequently, we saw them foraging in berry patches for days where previously she was spending ours as she strolled to others beyond.

Soon there was a paucity of food and alarming tens of thousands across social media land as she ventured into the rural agricultural area south of Jackson where she spent a risky month rubbing shoulders with cows, horses, beehives, and the rural-residential residents, the killing of a cow would have meant she would could have been destroyed for breaking the rules of the wilderness/,civilization interface.В A sow with three cubs in this area was tranquilized to be moved here in 1994 and one of those cub’s nose landed in two inches of water and it drowned.

The Grand Tetons, a grizzlies world.

Likely because of her very vocal tens of thousands of advocates Wyoming Game and Fish and the Federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service left her be despite them dining on a domestic bee colony, a backyard compost pile and was a regular at a horse grain feeder that a thoughtless resident wouldn’t remove to keep the bears safe. Miraculously they made it back to the park alive and un-trapped.

The autumn elk hunt was a Godsend for this family who had been surviving on a paucity ofВ required calories to give them the fat the needed to survive the hibernation of winter. After a month of dining on elk that had been weakened by poor shot hunters and gut piles left behind, all five bear bellies appeared to happily sag like water balloons, they might just make it after all!

399 and crew foraged longer into winter than seems logical, but the longer she could forage while attaining a net calorie gain, the shorter time she would be in the den with four cubs building a calorie deficit.

On New Years Day 2021 this grizzly family trudged through deep snow into the Teton Wilderness where she keeps her winter den.В

Quadruplets is an amazing capstone for an remarkable grizzlie's prolific life. Countless followers are praying they all have enough fat so all five bears emerge from the den in the spring.


Famous grizzly bear 399, with her four cubs in tow, has recently been seen farther south in Teton County than she has ever ventured before. Her exploits have taken her to residential neighborhoods and across busy roads. Grizzly bears are currently in a state known as hyperphagia in which an adult bear consumes about 30,000 calories a day in preparation for hibernation. With many mouths to feed, the mountain mama is most likely in search of food sources.

As residents of one of the most wildlife-rich regions in the United States, it is the responsibility of each of us living here to ensure that we are setting a stellar example of how to coexist with wildlife. Grizzly 399 and her offspring are some of the most beloved and well-known wildlife in the world. Families, photographers, wildlife watchers, and nature enthusiasts travel to northwest Wyoming to see her and her kin. They are symbols of both the wilderness and what people closely value as we have seen with record-breaking visitation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks this year.

Teton County still does not require bear-proof trash containers countywide leaving bears vulnerable to obtaining human food and getting into conflicts. Black bears are often the victims of our lax efforts to keep human attractants away from wildlife. While no more or less important than any other bear, 399 is an icon and very public figure. If she or her cubs were to obtain human food, pet food, birdseed, or any other non-natural food sources, this could put both her and her cubs’ lives in jeopardy.

We encourage everyone to do a thorough review of their property and secure anything that might entice a bear. Pet food, bird feeders, garbage, grain, horse feed, mineral licks, fruits from trees and shrubs, dirty grills and grease are all things that may get bears in trouble. Properly securing these inside a building or garage or in a bear-proof container is of the utmost importance. Even if you are outside the priority areas for bear-proof trash cans, consider investing in one to help our wild neighbors.

When driving during any time of the year, but especially during migration seasons and the fall months, slow down and obey speed limits. Stay alert and watch for wildlife on the sides of roads. While 399 is out and about near town, stay extra vigilant and be prepared to stop. When not interfering with other drivers, use high-beams at night to look for eyes on the side of the road and flash other drivers to alert them to the presence of wildlife.

We live in a special place. We have a responsibility to protect the wildlife that make this place special. As these bears are so closely watched and loved, the community expects Game and Fish to handle their management with extreme care and do all they can to keep this beloved bear family safe and protected.

Wyoming Wildlife Advocates is fighting to keep grizzlies protected because if no longer protected by the Endangered Species Act, 399 and other bears like her would be subjected to being hunted when outside the park boundaries. Bears have vast home ranges and are driven by their search for food. Not only are grizzlies an integral part of healthy, balanced ecosystems, they are also symbols of the American West, valued native species, and revered by some Indigenous peoples as relatives and teachers.

Let’s join together and all do our part to protect grizzly 399, her cubs, and all the other wildlife that share this unique landscape with us.


Cub of America’s most famous grizzly bear was just killed by a car

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Wildlife watchers and social media followers rejoiced last month when, at long last, a hulking female grizzly bear named No. 399 emerged from a longer-than-usual hibernation at Grand Teton National Park. Even better: Ambling beside her was a single, blond-faced cub.

There were two reasons for celebration. First, grizzly 399 was alive – a Wyoming hunter who had boasted of killing her months before had been bluffing. Second, the 20-year-old sow is, as a columnist for the Jackson Hole News and Guide put it, “the most famous living wild bear on Earth.” She has produced 16 cubs, is a beloved “roadside bear” who’s easy for tourists to spot, has been the subject of a book and has a Twitter account. Even the hiker mauled by 399 and her cubs in 2007 pleaded for the grizzly’s life to be spared, and officials agreed.

And so great sorrow spread among the members of 399’s devoted fanbase on Monday morning when they learned that the bear’s cub had been killed overnight – by a car.

“The death of this cub is especially tragic since Grizzly 399 is nearing the end of her reproductive life,” Wyoming Wildlife Advocates wrote on its Facebook page. “399’s cub, known as Snowy or Spirit by the bear watchers of Grand Teton, was adored for its antics and notably white face and will be sorely missed.”

Deby Dixon, a wildlife photographer, said she set out Monday morning to the spot on Pilgrim Creek Road where 399 can often be found. She hoped to take photos, but instead, she said, she happened upon what looked like an accident scene: The road was coned off, Dixon said, and members of the park’s volunteer Wildlife Brigade, which manages the roadside “wildlife jams” that occur when too many tourists stop to gawk at the animals, told her that the cub had become the victim of a hit-and-run.

Grizzly 399, Dixon said she was told, had dragged Snowy’s carcass to the side of the road.

Grizzly 399 rocketed to fame in 2006, according to National Geographic, when she was first spotted by the roadside, probably because it seemed safer than deeper in the wilderness, where male bears sometimes kill cubs. She was known for being particularly fertile, often giving birth to triplets.

Even in Grand Teton, though, life’s no picnic for baby bears. Vehicles have become a growing danger wildlife there and in other national parks, according to roadkill records released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in 2013, and that includes grizzlies. Thomas Mangelsen, who spent two years photographing 399 and her progeny for his book “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek,” told National Geographic last month that more than half of her cubs or descendants had already perished – felled by other bears, or by run-ins with people.

“That shows just how precarious it can be to grow a bear population, even with remarkably fertile mothers like 399,” Mangelsen said.

But Dixon said this year’s cub was special, not only because it was incredibly cute and larger than most cubs.

“They would play like every other step,” Dixon said of mother and baby. “People who’ve been watching her for years have never witnessed her play with her cubs like that.”


Cub Of Grizzly 399 Killed By Car In Grand Teton National Park

The cub of Grizzly 399, “America’s most famous grizzly bear,” was killed earlier this week by a car in Grand Teton National Park.

The cub, nicknamed “Snowy” for its whitish-blonde head, was the only cub born to Grizzly 399 this winter. And given the sow’s age (she turned 20 years old last winter) it could possibly be her last.

According to the Denver Post, Grizzly 399 (a “roadside bear” popular with tourists and photographers) previously made headlines when she effectively rose from the dead this past May, a Wyoming hunter claimed he illegally shot her months prior. Further, she emerged from hibernation with “Snowy” in tow, the latest in a long line of cubs (16, to be exact) born to Grizzly 399.

Grizzly 399 previously made headlines when she mauled a hiker in 2007. In all likelihood, she would have been put down, were it not for the testimony of the victim, who pleaded for the bear’s life, along with a number of environmental groups and wildlife advocates nationwide.

The accident happened overnight Monday, and was immediately greeted with sorrow and consternation by wildlife watchers nationwide, especially those living near Grand Teton National Park. From the Post:

Deby Dixon, a wildlife photographer, said she set out Monday morning to the spot on Pilgrim Creek Road where 399 can often be found. She hoped to take photos, but instead, she said, she happened upon what looked like an accident scene: The road was coned off, Dixon said, and members of the park’s volunteer Wildlife Brigade, which manages the roadside “wildlife jams” that occur when too many tourists stop to gawk at the animals, told her that the cub had become the victim of a hit-and-run.

Grizzly 399, Dixon said she was told, had dragged Snowy’s carcass to the side of the road.

Grizzly 399 rocketed to fame in 2006, according to National Geographic, when she was first spotted by the roadside, probably because it seemed safer than deeper in the wilderness, where male bears sometimes kill cubs. She was known for being particularly fertile, often giving birth to triplets.

Even in Grand Teton, though, life’s no picnic for baby bears. Vehicles have become a growing danger wildlife there and in other national parks, according to roadkill records released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in 2013, and that includes grizzlies. Thomas Mangelsen, who spent two years photographing 399 and her progeny for his book “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek,” told National Geographic last month that more than half of her cubs or descendants had already perished – felled by other bears, or by run-ins with people.

According to Todd Wilkinson, writing in National Geographic, Grizzly 399’s sudden reemergence with her uniquely patterned cub “only fueled her mystique and legend.” And according to the author, this is not the first cub of Grizzly 399 killed in her lifetime. From National Geographic:

Amazingly, 399 is responsible for 16 descendants (cubs and cubs of cubs) but equally as noteworthy is that over half have died in various kinds of negative encounters with humans. The causes include being illegally killed by a big game hunter, two being struck by cars, others destroyed for menacing cattle, or removed for venturing too close to human development.

Some biologists say that because 399 is now entering senescence, “Snowy” very well might be the last cub she ever has.

“Grizzly 399 has been one of the grand dames of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” says nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen.

“It is heart-wrenching to think that her last cub seems to have been killed in a hit-and-run accident,” says Mangelsen, who featured 399 and extended clan in the recent book Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek. (This author [Wilkinson] wrote the book’s narrative.)

According to National Geographic, Grizzly 399 was reportedly seen acting “erratically” in Grand Teton’s Pilgrim Creek drainage. Park Service crews closed the road leading into Pilgrim Creek, for the safety of both the bear and visitors. Park officials added that another bear (a black bear) had been struck by a car around the same time as “Snowy.”


Grizzly Miracle: Grand Teton’s 399 Emerges with Quadruplets


Grand Teton’s matriarch, Grizzly 399, is perhaps the most famous grizzly bear alive. And she has recently performed a miracle, emerging with four new cubs! If there ever was a mom capable of commanding this tiny but vivacious army, it is the maestro mother, bear 399.

Her feat is remarkable for several reasons. For one, at the age of twenty-four, 399 is truly ancient. If 399 has not warranted a proper name before now, maybe Sarah is fitting, in reference to the biblical character who gave birth at 90.

But quadruplets? Among the rarities that can be seen in Yellowstone, a litter of grizzly bear quadruplets is right up there with an eruption of mercurial Steamboat geyser, the tallest of all. Indeed, only eight litters of quadruplets have been documented since 1983 in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Grizzly 399 has created magic once again — and just in time.

To her fans, the sight of 399 and her new family transformed a season of tedium and anxiety into a time of celebration. After months of lockdown, the wonders of the natural world have seldom seemed so precious. Spring is bursting forth with a superabundance of wildflowers as seeming redemption for our social isolation, and as fitting welcome for an amazing bear whose life has enriched families from across the country who have been fortunate enough to see her.

What helped make Grizzly 399 so famous is her tolerance of people. She has also taught generations of cubs how to live amicably near roads and recreational areas. Her main reason for settling into these human-impacted environments is to keep her cubs safe from aggressive boars that often prefer to hang out in more remote areas. For her and other female grizzlies who frequent roadsides, staying near people is a better bet than mixing it up with boars that can and will kill cubs.

To these bears, people are allies – even, at times, babysitters. For thousands of years, Native Peoples throughout the world have left us stories about human beings living side by side with bears, saved by bears, even marrying bears. No wonder. We share so much with bears — the ability to stand upright, eat the same foods, and nurture our offspring for extended periods of time. We are reminded of the challenges all moms face as we watch the placid 399 keeping track of her babies with their boundless curiosity, guiding them across streams, or teaching them the art of digging biscuitroot.

We know more about 399 than most grizzly bears because she has lived her life so close to us. (Tom Mangelsen and Todd Wilkinson wrote a lovely book about her too). A successful and attentive mom, 399 is the quintessential mother with muffins in the oven. This is her sixth litter, of which three were triplets.

Thankfully, the Park Service embraces bears like 399. With the help of volunteers and rangers, Grand Teton and Yellowstone are doing their best to ensure that everybody, bears and humans, stays safe – through social distancing.

The Perils of an Olympian Mom

But when 399 steps outside the borders of the National Parks, she enters a much more dangerous world. On neighboring non-park land vital to the survival of these bears, policies are dictated by the state of Wyoming. Wildlife managers here have a far less inclusive view of grizzlies. Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGF) views large carnivores, not only as competitors for elk and moose that would otherwise be the source of hunting-license revenues, but also as little more than grist for the mill of sport hunting.

This cynical and transactional view of bears is rooted in various causes, including a deep-seated impulse to instrumentalize wildlife, a devotion to the ethos of hunting, and dependence for revenues on taxes from sales of arms and ammunition and sales of licenses to hunters.

Not surprisingly, after federal endangered species protections were stripped from Yellowstone grizzlies in 2017, Wyoming planned a sport hunt of grizzlies that would have allowed hunting right up to the borders of national parks. Fearing a public backlash if 399 were killed by a hunter, WGF reluctantly created a no-hunt buffer zone that barely encompassed her known range. But the zone did not include habitat used by her similarly unafraid offspring – or any other bears for that matter.

In September 2018, some hunters were already afield when a federal judge stopped the grizzly bear hunting season – just two days before it was scheduled to begin. Shortly afterwards, he restored endangered species protections to the Yellowstone grizzly population.

Hunting was not the only threat posed by delisting to 399’s clan. State managers said they also planned to haze or kill roadside bears. WGF’s large carnivore specialist, Dan Thompson, succinctly described the reason why: “Habituation towards people and the roadside bear situation, it’s not something that we’re supportive of.”

These regressive attitudes central to the culture of WGF underscore why federal protections are vital to 399 and her family. But even with safeguards provided by the ESA, grizzlies rarely die of natural causes. Roughly 80% of all the adolescent and adult grizzlies that die each year are killed by humans, according to government researchers.

We should never forget that the fate of grizzlies is in our hands. Nor should we forget the difference that one good mom can make, provided we let her and her kids live. The entire Yellowstone grizzly bear population could be built on as few as 50 fertile females alive during the early 1980’s. Every mom matters. And a female such as 399 is an Olympian.

But despite her competence as a mother, so far 399 has replaced herself just once with a female who has also had cubs: Grizzly 610. The reasons are pretty straight-forward. Grizzly bear birth rates are inherently low and many of 399’s offspring have been killed by humans.

I have spent years scrutinizing reports that describe grizzly bear deaths — not an undertaking for the faint of heart. Most of the deaths look as if they could have been — should have been — avoided, a conclusion confirmed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Among these are the tragic deaths of four of 399’s offspring. These deaths also illuminate some of the biggest threats to grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem: poaching, cars, livestock-related conflicts, and managers’ gaffs.

The Tale of Grizzly 615, Persistence

Grizzly 615, a daughter of 399’s, was diminutive and shy. And she assiduously avoided barbeques, birdfeeders, and the many human attractants in Jackson Hole. Dubbed “Persistence”, the one thing 615 could not persist was bullets at close range.

In 2009 she was shot illegally by Stephen Westmoreland as he was out hunting on National Forest land near Jackson. She was feeding on the remains of a moose that had been killed by another hunter and stood up to look at Westmoreland as he walked by about 40 yards away. He proceeded to shoot 615 repeatedly in the chest and abdomen, later claiming self-defense.

Astonishingly, this case went to trial – which almost never happens, especially in Wyoming.

A modicum of justice was done in that Westmoreland was convicted by his peers of poaching. But rather than being fined $10,000 and spending significant time behind bars — all allowed for under the law — he only paid a $500 fine and walked away, which speaks volumes about how grizzlies are valued in Wyoming’s legal system.

The Story of Grizzly 587: Of Bears and Cows

In 2013, Grizzly 587, a son of 399’s, was killed by WGF officials in the Upper Green River area east of Jackson because he had developed the habit of eating cows grazing on US Forest Service pastures. Notably, all of these cows were owned by local ranchers who benefit from cut-rate grazing fees heavily subsidized by tax-payer dollars. The Upper Green area is at the juncture of vast wilderness areas, yet it has become the ecosystem’s epicenter of conflicts between grizzlies and ranchers.

Former Bridger-Teton National Forest biologist Timm Kaminski has called the Upper Green an “ecological trap” – a place that attracts bears and wolves because of an abundance of natural food and secure habitat, but where they end up being killed because relatively helpless cows are dumped on the landscape with little oversight. The heart of the problem here is not bears but rather human ignorance and resistance to change.

Many ranchers peacefully work out their differences with grizzly bears without much fanfare, often with the help of livestock guardian dogs, riders, electric fence, and commonsense husbandry practices. That is not the case in the Upper Green. The tool of choice among these wealthy ranchers seems to be the telephone. Calls to Wyoming’s governor and high-level administrators often succeed in pressuring wildlife managers to kill bears.

Ranchers in the Upper Green were again recently rewarded for their behavior when the US Fish & Wildlife Service decided to allow for killing 72 grizzlies in this area during the next ten years, while at the same time not requiring any changes in how ranchers operate on Forest Service grazing allotments. Not surprisingly, conservationists have sued to stop the plan.

Although wildlife managers might argue that 587’s death was justified, the death of 760 clearly was not.

Grizzly 760, The Perfect Gentleman

Grizzly 760 was the grandson of Grizzly 399 and son of 610. Handsome and joyful, Grizzly 760 was often described as “the perfect gentleman.” In 2014, he was killed by Wyoming officials in Clark, Wyoming, after he ate a freshly-killed deer that a hunter had left dangling on a pole.

Grizzly 760’s troubles began when he showed up in a high-end Jackson subdivision and was removed for “public safety” reasons. Records show that this young bear had never obtained food from humans — in other words, Grizzly 760 never had committed an offense sufficient to prompt being trapped and hauled off to a far corner of his world.

But he was drugged and moved anyway to be dropped off near Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance—in October when he needed to pack on pounds for winter. Moreover, in contravention of government guidelines designed to maximize the chances that a translocated bear would survive, Wyoming officials dumped Grizzly 760 among a veritable hive of bears.

Not surprisingly, Grizzly 760 quickly made his way to a community of people that his life experience had taught him would be hospitable. Behind a home in Clark, he found the deer. To Grizzly 760 a hanging deer quarter was clearly dinner – not unlike the elk gut piles that hunters conveniently left behind back home.

The deer remains could just as well have been bait. The owner of the deer had not taken reasonable precautions to “bear proof” it. After dining on venison, Grizzly 760 tried to guard the rest from its putative owner, who tried to push him away with a truck. To Grizzly 760 trucks were old hat. He was undeterred.

In response to Grizzly 760’s behavior, impeccable by bear logic, Wyoming’s officials killed him — a bear who had never committed any one of the three cardinal sins that typically warrants death: depredating food that had been reasonably secured, displaying aggressive, non-defensive behavior, or injuring or killing someone.

Within days, the officials involved in this fiasco tried to rewrite Grizzly 760’s history, painting him as a dangerous “food conditioned” bear. But over time his fans came to rescue his reputation, celebrating him with poems, video, testimony…and the truth.

Although Grizzly 399 could not have known what happened to 615, 587 and 760, the death of her baby Snowy clearly broke her heart.

The Saga of Snowy

In 2016, Grizzly 399 emerged with a blond-faced cub that was quickly nicknamed Snowy. Her admirers had been holding their breath because during the previous fall a Wyoming man claimed to have illegally and maliciously killed 399.

But just a month after emerging from the safety of the den, Snowy was struck by a carand killed. Grizzly 399 promptly drug the cub’s body away from the road. After 399 had wandered away from the cub’s side, Park Rangers removed the corpse. Photographers described a gut-wrenching scene that lasted for days as the grieving mother frantically birddogged the sagebrush looking for her cub.

And Snowy will not be the last to die this way. More and more grizzlies are being killed by cars each year as traffic mounts throughout the region.

Inside Grand Teton, the Park Service can and does close roads to protect 399 and other roadside bears. But this is less of an option outside park boundaries, such as on Togwotee Pass east of Jackson, where another famous grizzly nicknamed Felicia is making her living along a highway.

Of Felicia: Bear Mom in a Danger Zone

The stolid 399 could not be more different from Grizzly 863, aka Felicia, who my husband, Dr. David Mattson, has described as “a bear’s version of the young woman who got in trouble with the law and ended up a single mom in a rough neighborhood trying to scrape together a living while fending off predatory males.” By the time she was 3 years old she had already been trapped, drugged, and handled by humans twice.

Last year, she emerged with her first litter of two cubs, but has since lost them both. Wyoming officials tried to haze her from the roadside where she had settled – a move that failed most likely because she was more terrified of male bears in the backcountry that might eat her cubs than she was of the poorly implemented and ill-thought-out hazing efforts.

State officials were aggrieved, not only with the bear but the whole roadside bear watching phenomenon. Last summer, Brian DeBolt of WGF accosted a photographer who had been watching her and the hazing operation, saying “f..k you photographers.”

Thankfully, this summer the Forest Service has hired a roadside bear ambassador who is trying, with the help of volunteers, to manage the crowds now watching Felicia consort with a male bear. Other grizzlies will undoubtedly follow in Felicia’s footsteps. Because this is a state highway bisecting 60 miles of wild National Forest land, managing roadside bears will be much more challenging here than in Grand Teton Park. A major coordinated effort among state and federal agencies is warranted, possibly including a system of highway overpasses and underpasses that have proven to be effective in Alberta’s Banff National Park and in Europe.

Taking Our Bearings

There is much to learn from these tales. As I have discussed elsewhere, we need better law enforcement that reflects the extent to which we collectively value these animals. Managers also need to punish rather than reward bad actors, including inside the government, as highlighted by 760’s death. And we must address the threat of mounting car traffic.

But the biggest problem is the culture and financial dependencies of state wildlife agencies. Protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act would not be so critical were it not for the fundamental hostility of the states to grizzlies – and even to those who love them. Despite growing demand for a more compassionate approach to wildlife, state managers are clinging to a past era of dehumanized connections with nature, wherein wild animals are mere objects or quotas to be filled during a hunting season. If federal protections are again stripped, we would soon see Wyoming—along with Montana and Idaho—open a grizzly bear sport hunt.

This does not have to be so. Through fiscal reforms, other states – including relatively poor ones such as Arkansas and Missouri — have moved beyond financial dependencies on hunters to rely on other funding sources, including wildlife watchers. As a result, these states have increasingly prioritized conservation of so-called “non-game” species. We need to make similar changes in the Northern Rockies, where tourism and wildlife watching have replaced extractive industries as the engines driving the health of our economy.

Just as Grizzly 399 is busy teaching her four little ones how to navigate the topside world, she has much to teach us — about tolerance, equanimity and being a good mom. Watching this Olympian bear mother and her family graze sedges or nap in the shade of cottonwoods – magical in the ordinariness of it all – we can feel reconnected with the natural world and ourselves.

Grizzly 399 reminds us that a reciprocal relationship with nature — even with a large carnivore — is still possible. In making the risky choice to trust us with her fate and those of her cubs, she is also challenging us to return the favor with a spirit of generosity. The lives and deaths of Grizzly 399’s clan remind us too how far we have to go to reform the institutions that govern their fate – and that of hundreds of grizzlies that define the wild heart of the Northern Rockies.

Louisa Willcox is a longtime grizzly bear activist and founder of Grizzly Times. She lives in Montana.


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