Preliminary data suggests livestock conflicts were the primary cause of known grizzly bear deaths outside of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem monitoring areas in 2020, scientists said at a meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Frank van Manen, supervisory research biologist for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, presented highlights from this year’s grizzly bear research and monitoring report to the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee on Wednesday.
Charts that van Manen presented showed that out of 18 known grizzly bear deaths outside of the monitoring area this year, 12 occurred because of livestock conflicts, according to preliminary data. The grizzly bear demographic monitoring area (DMA) is a nearly 20,000 square mile zone that spans outward from Yellowstone National Park. Scientists estimate bear numbers within that area.
All the other 25 known grizzly bear mortalities that occurred inside of the DMA in 2020 were caused by human-related conflicts, according to the data. However, only four were caused by conflicts with livestock. Two were recorded as illegal.
Bear populations remained steady overall, estimated at a little more than 700, according to van Manen.
As Yellowstone grizzly bears roam further from recovery zones toward other isolated populations of bears, livestock conflicts have increased. Members of Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council, a citizen-led group tasked with identifying statewide strategies for the management of the bears, spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.
Members described strategies they came up with in their final recommendation to prepare rural communities for increased contact with grizzlies.
Measures included increasing bear resistant infrastructure, more funding for more “bear aware” education and full funding for the livestock loss board. The board helps ranchers access tools for grizzly bear conflict prevention. It also compensates them for livestock losses to grizzlies.
“As these grizzlies move further out of the mountains, they’re finding themselves sharing habitat with cattle and sheep,” said Trina Jo Bradley, a council member and a Montana rancher. “But it is these cattle and sheep that are keeping the land viable for the wildlife as well. Without these huge expanses of pastures and ranch land, the wildlife would have nowhere to go.”
Erin Edge, a council member and representative from the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, emphasized the need for grizzly bear conflict prevention education outside of the monitoring areas. She also said diverse funding sources were needed to afford these measures.
“We need to come together to figure out how we can help each other,” she said.