Hunters: Watch out for grizzlies
If you are heading to Wyoming for a bit of big-game hunting this fall, be bear aware.
Researchers are saying whitebark pine tree cone production this year is poor, which could mean an increase in bear conflicts — particularly for hunters.
Grizzly bears depend on the high-fat seeds of the whitebark pine as an important pre-hibernation food, and The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team recently warned hunters that without a good seed production, bears will range farther this fall in search of alternative food sources.
In some cases, whitebark pine are producing as few as 2.5 cones per tree, compared to the normal 20.
According to the study team, the bears’ alternative to the seeds generally is meat.
“What this means is that bears will shift their distribution from higher to lower elevation,” said Mark Bruscino, bear management officer for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “A fact that berry pickers and hunters should take note of.”
Bruscino said that although whitebark pine cones may not be readily available, bears are adaptable to other food sources. In his experience, the bears’ nutritional status based on percent of body fat does not change significantly during poor whitebark pine cone production years.
“Bears will not starve to death,” he said. “They will merely switch to alternative foods, primarily meat and hunters should be extra cautious this fall.”
Bruscino said bears seem to get bolder around people while searching for food during low whitebark pine cone years.
“Although I believe this to be true, I do not think bears behave more aggressively in encounters when whitebark pine cones are scarce,” Bruscino said.
Hunters and other backcountry recreationists are cautioned to be ready for a bear encounter and to carry a bear deterrent.
“As a matter of personal safety, we recommend that everyone, including hunters, carry bear spray as a deterrent against aggressive bears,” Bruscino said. “Studies and anecdotal evidence have shown that bear spray is effective.”