Washington DC - A new government study shows that intense elk hunting on the boundary of Yellowstone National Park is altering feeding habits of grizzly bears, leading to a recent increase in hunter-caused bear deaths, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The draft federal-state study, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, confirms disclosures by long-time Yellowstone backcountry ranger Bob Jackson showing that non-enforcement of anti-salting and other hunting rules is negatively affecting threatened grizzly populations. Study findings include:
· "During the 1990's, numbers of hunting related grizzly mortalities have increased in the GYE [Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem]. Much of this increase can be attributed to incidents occurring during the early elk harvest ...in Montana and Wyoming."
· Grizzly feeding patterns have changed, as bears migrate outside Yellowstone Park for elk season. "Bears learn to use available food resources quickly, and when food availability becomes predictable, bears will establish traditional use and impart that behavior to their offspring. Availability of food associated with the elk harvest may be considered a predictable food resource to bears..." A butchering practice called "quick quartering" leaves an estimated 370 tons of elk meat in "gut piles" each year outside park boundaries.
· Grizzly in search of elk meat are losing their fear of humans. "During recent years, anecdotal descriptions from outfitters, guides and hunters...indicate encounters between humans and bears are a common occurrence during [the] hunting season. Two decades ago many of these same outfitters and guides considered observations of grizzly bears a rare event."
According to the study, hunting encounters have "become the single largest source of known human-caused grizzly deaths." Highly motivated to feed before hibernation, grizzlies are associating gunfire with food. As one Wyoming game official remarked, gunshots in the early fall sound like "a dinner bell" to ravenous grizzly.
"This study echoes what Bob Jackson was saying when park officials ordered his silence," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is providing legal representation for Jackson and is seeking a Park Service investigation into the Jackson gag order. "Bob Jackson is trying to prevent a biological train wreck by drawing attention to the total the non-enforcement of hunting laws."
A copy of the draft study, "Possible Effects of Elk Harvest on Fall Distribution of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem" (Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey and Wyoming Game & Fish Department), is available on request.