CODY — Grizzly bear country is growing.
Game and Fish Large Carnivore Sectional Supervisor Dan Thompson said while good efforts have been made recently to decrease certain conflict types, more issues are popping up as bears range farther from the most suitable backcountry habitats.
“Grizzly bears aren’t relegated to the remote backcountry stretches over previous decades, they have successfully recolonized suitable habitat and expanded beyond those areas,” he said. “Having bears in certain habitats isn’t good for either (bears nor humans).
“Almost a third of the range is outside of the suitable area. That’s a big factor.”
So far this year, he said incidents have been high, but over the last few years that’s become expected.
One of the key factors is the success of the state and local communities in helping to rehabilitate the population of Yellowstone area grizzlies, which the department numbers at over 1,000.
Thompson said a 2010 count shows the grizzlies occupying roughly 19,000 square miles in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 2020, that had expanded to 27,000, meaning in 10 years the range of grizzlies expanded about as much as the state of Massachusetts.
More than 4,600 square miles of that land is private. Thompson said this is 750 square miles larger than Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway combined.
And with the growth of cities in the region, there are now more people — and since the pandemic more people outdoors — in those areas the bears have inhabited.
“There’s more recreational use of areas in grizzly habitat, a lot more people recreating in areas that have been grizzly habitats forever, and they’re new to the notion of what you have to do,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize the potential for running into grizzly bears.”