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Packed audience hears experts discuss threats to famed Jackson Hole Grizzly 399, other bears

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The dangerous navigations of Grizzly Mother 399 and cubs serves as a backdrop for larger questions surrounding the future of grizzlies. To see more photos of 399 go to Visit mangelsen.com to see more photos of 399. PHOTO BY THOMAS D. MANGELSEN.

By Todd Wilkinson EBS Environmental Columnist

More than 1,000 viewers tuned in on Nov. 8 to watch a panel discussion about threats to world famous Jackson Hole Grizzly 399 and her cubs, the challenges facing grizzlies in general, and how controversial new laws in Montana are undermining the miraculous conservation success stories of grizzlies and wolves. You can listen to the entire discussion below.

About half of the audience listened in live via Zoom and the rest on Facebook. Since that time, tens of thousands have watched a recording of the special Grizzly Bear Town Hall cohosted by Explore Big Sky’s Editor-in-Chief Joseph T. O’Connor and Mountain Journal founder Todd Wilkinson.

The discussion generated several notable newsmaking insights all its own:

Globally iconic conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall, best known for her work studying chimpanzees and who says she is a huge fan of Grizzly 399, made a surprise appearance and noted how individual bears like 399 have transformed the way humans think about the animals. 

Dr. Christopher Servheen, who recently retired after 35 years of overseeing grizzly bear recovery for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he now has reservations about whether the three states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho are actually up to the task of responsibly managing grizzlies if bears are delisted from federal protection.  

Listen to what Servheen says in the panel discussion. He also noted that the greatest threat facing wildlife is misguided development now proliferating on private land in the region and rapidly rising numbers of people—recreationists—inundating grizzly habitat on public lands. 

Dr. Jodi Hilty, president and senior scientist with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, explained how the communities of Canmore and Banff, Alberta, located in the Bow River Valley at the front doorstep of Banff National Park, have adopted policies that have reduced human-bear conflicts.

Canmore mandates bear-proof containers, outlaws sloppy garbage behavior among citizens, issues harsh fines to back up the regulations and, in addition, there’s a social atmosphere of admonition for those who break the rules. The communities also have imposed requirements that dogs be on leashes because domestic canines not only displace wildlife but heighten the possibility of a negative encounter with bears, wolves and cougars, she said.  

Afterward, in a flurry of emails exchanged between panel participants and citizens, many see the Canadian model as a potential alternative to loose-garbage storage regulations that abound throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem both at the county and municipal levels. 

Renowned American nature photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen, who has made his home in Jackson Hole for nearly five decades, claimed that a recent attempt to capture and radio collar Grizzly 399 and her cubs was botched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other collaborating agencies. Two cubs of 399 were indeed captured and radio collared. Mangelsen said the intervention put the bear family in potentially greater peril, but Servheen said knowing where the bears are located enables agencies to better protect them, especially from getting in trouble by deepening their taste for human and unnatural foods. The week of Nov 8, 399 and her cubs strolled into the town of Jackson, ambling through neighborhoods where trash was not secured, and the bears were gently escorted back toward surrounding wildlands.

In all, the discussion was lively, passionate and informative, and we hope to keep these important discussions alive. 

To watch the full recorded conversation, entitled “Town Hall Series: Living in Bear Country,” visit the Explore Big Sky YouTube page here.

Outlaw Partners, publisher of EBS, recently launched an initiative called Hey Bear as a way to increase bear education and awareness. Visit heybear.com for more information.

Todd Wilkinson is the founder of Bozeman-based Mountain Journal and is a correspondent for National Geographic. He authored the book “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek,” featuring photography by Mangelsen, about grizzly bear 399. 

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