Living in bear country often results in conflict.
Eighty-eight bear and human conflicts were tallied in Park County in 2009. That number doesn't include seeing a bear when hiking or hunting. Last year, seven grizzlies were killed in self-defense situations near Yellowstone.
Unfortunately, the Greater Yellowstone Region recently tallied its first fatal grizzly mauling in 25 years. In a June 17 attack, botanist Erwin Frank Evert was mauled to death after hiking in a North Fork area where a grizzly had been tranquilized for research conducted by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. He was not carrying bear spray or a gun.
Questions remain about why Evert, who was familiar with hiking along backcountry trails, entered a dangerous area that researchers say was clearly marked. An investigation is under way to help piece together details of the tragic encounter.
The incident underscores the need for humans in bear country to be vigilant as well as armed with bear spray or a gun.
Considering the region's grizzly population and a new federal law that allows loaded guns in national parks, those carrying loaded weapons must be educated about bruin behavior.
Misreading a grizzly's behavior or acting out of fear can easily result in a dead bear —and, quite possibly, consequences for the shooter. Unless it's a proven case of self-defense, killing a grizzly is a federal crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Last month, a Jackson Hole hunter who claimed self-defense was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of illegally taking a grizzly.
“This whole thing adds up to that people need to make sure they are in a self-defense situation. You can't kill wildlife based on an undemonstrated fear of an unrealistic threat,” Mark Bruscino, Game and Fish chief bear biologist, told the Jackson Hole News and Guide after the trial.
In order to understand bears' behavior and how to react during encounters, residents coexisting with grizzlies should take advantage of the Game and Fish Department's bear safety educational resources.
Carrying bear spray is an effective way to protect yourself against a bear attack and can stop a bear without killing it. Research shows bear spray stopped grizzlies in 46 of 50 cases — 92 percent of the time.
Game and Fish bear-wise community coordinator Tara Teaschner highly recommends carrying bear spray and said she is happy to show residents how to use it. For information, call her at 307-272-1121 or 307-527-7125.
The threat of grizzly encounters is inevitable in our region, but by being prepared and educated, the number of fatal conflicts can be reduced.