A sow grizzly bear and her two cubs were trapped and euthanized south of Byron on Wednesday and Thursday. Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials say it’s the first time the agency has captured a grizzly in Big Horn County in at least a half-century.
Byron “is way outside” the the core grizzly bear habitat known as the demographic monitoring area, said Dan Smith, Cody Regional Wildlife Supervisor for the department.
“We have not had grizzly bears in this area of Big Horn County since well before grizzly bear recovery efforts began in the 1970s, but as grizzly populations continue to expand in distribution, bear sightings are occurring more and more in areas we would not normally expect to see them and in areas that are not considered suitable for bears,” Smith said in a statement. “Most of these areas are more susceptible to conflicts between humans and bears.”
The three bears were initially spotted by a citizen's remote trail camera, while they were feeding on a dead cow southwest of Byron, the Game and Fish says. The cow was located in a dead animal pit along the Shoshone River corridor on private land, Smith said.
Kyle Leithead, an employee for Merit Energy Company for the past four years, discovered the bruins while on his maintenance route, just south of U.S. Highway 14-A.
“It’s not something I ever imagined I’d see,” Leithead said, adding, “The Game and Fish responded quickly and did a great job. Hats off to them.”
The 9-year-old sow had been captured by the department twice before. In 2013, the Game and Fish says the bear was caught near ranch buildings on private land outside of Cody. The female was captured again last month after preying on cattle and, along with its two cubs, the sow was relocated to the Snake River Drainage in Teton County.
The bears’ travels over the past month surprised wildlife managers — both that the sow returned to Park County after being moved to the Jackson area in September, and that the family went so far east of the desired grizzly habitat in the demographic monitoring area.
The Game and Fish trapped the female with a snare late Wednesday, on land that’s leased to Merit Energy. The sow was euthanized Thursday, Smith said. The cubs, one female and one male, were captured and euthanized Thursday night.
“The bears were removed [euthanized] because of a previous conflict history and their proximity to humans,” Smith said. The department said it also recommended removing the bears because of concerns about habituation to human activities and the unsuccessful attempt at relocation.
The eastern location of the bears was not taken into consideration in deciding their fate, Smith said.
He added that all decisions of acceptable grizzly habitat and the fate of captured bears are now made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Management of the species went back to the federal agency after a September federal district court decision placed them back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, wildlife managers have documented 64 grizzly bear deaths in 2018, according to federal data. Managers have euthanized 45 of those bears, the data says, including 17 outside the demographic monitoring area.
Once a bear is captured, field biologists call a wildlife division manager, who in turn calls federal officials to decide the fate of the animal. During a conference call, those involved reference the Interagency Grizzly Bear Guidelines. The 100-page document, published in 1986, contains tables of conflict resolution scenarios. The scenarios run from the reporting of a nuisance bear to capture and possible resolution suggestions. While the guidelines are referenced in grizzly conflicts, there is flexibility in every decision, Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Hilary Cooley of Fish and Wildlife said earlier this month.