Grizzly 399’s diet takes concerning turn

JACKSON — Bear biologist Mike Boyce was staked out on a road in south of Wilson for much of Tuesday keeping tabs on five grizzly bears that were napping, playing and feeding on a deer carcass.

“They devoured it in just a matter of a couple hours,” Boyce said from the scene.

For three weeks and running this has been what the Wyoming Game and Fish Department employee’s workdays look like: keeping tabs on grizzly 399 and her four cubs, spreading the word of their whereabouts and trying to keep both people and the bears out of harm’s way.

“I’ve been on this full time,” Boyce said. “Since they left the park — when was that?”

Grizzly 399, he recalled, first ventured south the last week of October. The 24-year-old bear did go back north to her normal territory in Grand Teton National Park, but her detour to familiar terrain lasted a single day. The valley’s most well-known wild animal has recently been living in the southern valley near ranches and subdivisions.

Mostly her stay has been conflict-free. But the change in habitat has taken a potentially perilous turn recently as grizzly 399 has started to key in on human-related foods.

“It’s a bit unnerving for our agency,” Wyoming Game and Fish Regional Supervisor Brad Hovinga told the News & Guide.

“Here’s a bear that’s long habituated to being around people,” he said. “Now she’s in a new area that has different food sources, and some of those food sources are associated with human and residential activity.”

The three known types of unnatural sustenance that bear 399 has obtained are honey from a beekeeper’s hives, a grain mix meant for livestock and a residential compost pile. The sow grizzly and her large litter took advantage of all those foods over the last week to 10 days. Two of the three “food rewards” received were significant.

“They were on beehives for at least two days,” Hovinga said. “They pretty much cleaned up all the food that was available.”

Nobody was around to interrupt the behavior, he said, which persisted until the apiarist’s colony had been wiped out.

When the grizzly family found the pelleted livestock grain they gorged for about an hour. Boyce arrived, fired firecracker-like “bird bombs” to scare the bears off — and it worked.

“Even though they did return they didn’t get a food reward the second time,” Hovinga said. “But they did get a significant food reward the first time.”

The compost pile was raided at night in the southern valley. The grizzlies’ tracks told the story of what happened.

In the aftermath of all incidents, Boyce worked with the landowners to “secure the attractants.” Any subsequent attempts to access the foods were deterred.

Still, the five grizzlies remain in the area and the adage “a fed bear is a dead bear” often rings true. Grizzly…