Protecting Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

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Grizzly Bear

© Melissa Scott

Nestled in the southern region of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is one of the most crucial areas in the country for wildlife conservation of the threatened grizzly bear. This Western frontier town is trying to ensure that humans and the approximately 700 grizzlies that live within the GYE coexist safely and peacefully.

Unfortunately, where there is human-bear existence, there is also inevitable conflict. In 2021, human-animal conflict claimed the lives of six grizzlies that were accessing food and unsecured trash in the area. When bears—hungry for food—travel to populated areas for sustenance, including from trash cans, they face an existential threat.

The grizzly bear is a keystone species responsible for a healthy GYE, playing a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance in the overarching ecosystem. Spanning 22 million acres within the northern Rocky Mountains in northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, the GYE is among the last remaining large intact ecosystems in the northern temperate zone. The grizzly bears that are so iconic to the area play an important role in regulating prey species, dispersing seeds, fertilizing forests and other essential activities needed for the survival of the ecosystem—a role no other species in the area can manage. If they disappear, the area will change dramatically, impacting both wildlife tourism and the local economy. Grizzly bears also provide abundant wildlife viewing and photography opportunities, including on Natural Habitat Adventure’s Hidden Yellowstone & Grand Teton Safari and our Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf & Wildlife Safari.

Realizing that reducing conflict with humans is a powerful way to protect grizzly bears, the Teton County Wyoming Board of County Commissioners passed a regulation to secure all bear attractants in designated conflict areas. On April 12, 2022, the regulation was amended, requiring all county residents to do the same or face hefty fines. An effort by non-profit organizations and concerned citizens is now underway to make sure all residents to have access to bear-resistant trash cans, regardless of their financial status. We at Nat Hab are helping meet this goal with a donation and a call to action!

Grizzly Bears and Conflict With Humans

In 2018, a Federal decision bestowed upon the mighty grizzly bear protection from hunting in the Greater Yellowstone area under the Endangered Species Act. Although hunting is illegal, these majestic creatures are increasingly coming into confrontation with humans, resulting in loss of life.

Traditional food sources for bears are diminishing due to climate change and human impact. Bears in hyperphagia (an abnormal increase in appetite) before hibernation consume up to 20,000 calories a day and gain 30 pounds per week. Whitebark pine, a traditional grizzly bear food source full of fat and protein needed for hibernation, is functionally extinct in the GYE due to beetle infestations and blister rust. Another food source, the cutthroat trout, has been displaced by invasive lake trout that are not easily accessible for grizzly bears. Because of the reduction of these food sources, grizzly bears are compelled to travel long distances across cattle land, populated areas and busy roads to sustain themselves and their cubs.

Once these animals adapt to unnatural food sources, such as garbage, chickens, apiaries (collections of beehives—because bears really do love honey!) and livestock feed, they become acclimated to return to these areas. Unfortunately, when bears pursue food in human-populated areas, numerous problems arise. In order to prevent damage by these enormous creatures and protect domesticated animals, humans take fatal action against bears that are simply trying to fill their bellies. And, in some instances, bears perish on deadly roads as they make their way to easy food sources in populated areas.

Bear-Resistant Trash Cans to the Rescue

Trash is the number one cause leading to human conflict with bears. The solution to prevent this is clear and simple: secure garbage bins and remove any attractants.

Jackson Hole Bear Solutions, a program run by the non-profit Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, is helping Jackson Hole residents comply with the county’s new requirement, just in time for the bears to emerge from hibernation seeking food sources.

Bear-resistant trash cans

© Jackson Hole Bear Solutions

The program is geared toward reducing barriers, including costs, and providing bear-resistant trash cans for anyone in the county. Jackson Hole Bear Solutions has a dollar-for-dollar matching fund to make donations go even further. The program partners with the National Elk Refuge and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fulfill its goal of storing and distributing bear-resistant trash cans to local residents and businesses. The program also offers materials and installation assistance for electric fencing to secure compost piles, apiaries and chicken coops.

Nat Hab Philanthropy is proud to contribute to this bear-safety initiative with a donation of $3,250 to Jackson Hole Bear Solutions to secure 20 bear-safe trash cans. If you’d like to join us in empowering Jackson Hole residents to live peacefully with the grizzly bears, please consider making a donation to the non-profit Jackson Hole Bear Solutions. A donation of $325 usually pays for one bear-resistant garbage can, but for a limited time, a one-to-one donation-matching program allows for the purchase of two trash cans for two low-income residences for the same amount! Of course, you can also donate more or less than that, and you can choose to make a one-time or recurring donation. No matter what, your donation will help make grizzlies safer for years to come.

About the author: Lavanya Sunkara View all posts by

Lavanya Sunkara is a writer, animal lover and responsible traveler based in New York City. She’s traveled within six continents, lived in three time zones, speaks two languages and is fervent about living a life of purpose.

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