The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) of Cody sponsored a hike today in the Francs Peak area. The Shoshone National Forest Bear Biologist, Andy Pils, led the hike.
I had an opportunity to speak extensively with Andy about various bear subjects; but the most incredulous thing happened when I told Andy about my sighting last Sunday of a Grizzly mom and her three cubs of the year at Sawtooth lake. Andy told me that those bears got a huge food reward, unfortunately, and this is what happened.
If you read that post, you’ll find that I walked the rocky road to Sawtooth Lake, approximately three miles. At 1/4 mile from the lake, the road descends sharply and becomes even more treacherous to drive. Parked on that rise was a Toyota 4-runner with Montana plates. I wondered why they drove their vehicle on such a boulder-stricken road.
At the lake, I heard gunshots. The Montana fellows were target shooting from a beach at the lake’s input, about 200 yards east around the lake front. I was traveling west to little Sparhawk Lake so I ignored them. Around 12:30 I began the hike back to my car. I passed their 4-runner and entered a small meadow. That’s where I heard, then saw, the grizzly sow and her three cubs. The sow was running, heading directly to the lake. I considered the fellows down there, thought maybe I might head back and let them know a grizzly was around, but then felt not only would the bear get there before me, but also they were way out on the east end at a beach, not near where the bear would enter.
This is where the story gets quite strange. Andy Pils tells me that just about the time the bear was approaching the lake, these guys were walking around the lake back to the road. They’d just approached the road’s end at the lakefront when they saw the bear and her cubs, although they reported seeing only two cubs. When they saw the sow, they completely freaked out, dropped their packs, fishing tackle and rods, plus left their cooler full of food and ran back to their car. Once at the car, they raced back to their home in Billings, MT.
By the next day I suppose they started to think about their encounter, and they had the “brilliant” thought that people finding their stuff strewn around might believe the bear ate them. So they called the Forest Service to report they were still alive and told Andy what happened.
When Andy Pils heard they left their cooler there, he told them that was a huge mistake. Their response “But it was a 1000 pound grizzly!” They of course had no bear spray. Andy went to the lake to clean things up. He found that the bears had demolished the cooler and ate all the food, throwing all the trash around. But the fishing tackle and backpacks were intact. The Montana fellows told Andy they wanted their stuff back (“There’s about $1000 worth of stuff there”. “No way” says Andy, just a cooler and some backpacks), but they said getting to Cody would take some time because they broke their car axle leaving Sawtooth Lake.
There are so many parts to this story that are incredulous, and downright full of stupidity. Let me break it down:
- Not one of these guys had bear spray
- Greater Yellowstone Bears do not weigh 1000 pounds. Being a sow she probably weighed about 300-400 pounds.
- They did everything wrong when they saw this bear, and who knows how far away she was when they even spotted her. They should have talked to the bear and slowly walked to their car. More than likely she would have taken her cubs away from the area.
- They ran. Number one NO NO rule.
- They gave her an incredible food reward. Now those cubs will never forget and will associate humans with food. Maybe not this year or next, but at three years old when they are out on their own, they might become nuisance bears. Fed bears are dead bears, period.
- That bear and her cubs were bothering no one. I do not know for certain why she was running along the trees when I saw her. I postulate that she smelled me and was taking her cubs away. Therefore, she would have done the same with these guys if given a chance.
This story made me so angry. The only thing they did right was not shoot those bears. (As an aside, I was pretty shaken up when I got to the lake and heard gunshots. I only hoped they had enough sense not to shoot across the lake. Having hiked into a beautiful pristine area, the last thing I wanted to hear was gunshots going off when it was not hunting season.)
If people are going to recreate in bear country, they need to know at least the most basic simple rules and take precautions. I asked Andy about those young twin grizzlies that were moved which I wrote about here. He said lots of cars stopped on the Beartooth Highway to watch them and he was certain a motorist had given them a food reward. Once that happened, they became nuisance bears and were moved to a remote section of the south Shoshone.
Bears are having a difficult season, with a poor berry crop, few nuts and a bad moth year, bears are being seen more than ever in the low country because they are very hungry. I worry how hunting season will go this year.
On a lighter note, here are some photos of our hike today: