Booming Grizzly Bear Population Leading To Greater Conflict With Humans, Experts Say

by Jon D. B.

The uptick in Grizzly bear sightings, encounters, and human fatalities has gone up drastically this year – and it all ties into a “bear boom.”

For Montana, the Grizzly bear has always been a part of human life. Not like they are now, however. A huge resurgence in the state’s population has their numbers up so high, in fact, that – according to 60 Minutes – Montana hasn’t seen this many grizzlies in 150 years.

For the past 45 years, the bears have been fiercely protected by the United States government. Prior to this, decades of aggressive elimination by humans nearly wiped them out in North America entirely. Now, experts believe this 45 years is all it took for the grizzly bear to more than triple its population, bringing it back from the brink of extinction.

Grizzly bears were listed in 1975 as a threatened species in the lower 48 states… They’ve probably more than tripled their numbers and their range now is more than double what it was at the time of listing,” Hilary Cooley reports to 60 Minutes. Cooley is the Federal Fish and Wildlife officer in charge of the bears’ recovery.

“Bears can be really hard to live with,” Cooley continues. “They kill livestock. There are producers in that area who have 20, 30 cows a year killed by grizzly bears… it’s a lot. It’s a big impact.”  

Grizzly bear & human population booms coincide

While it’s true that Montana’s grizzly bear population has tripled – so has the human population around Glacier and Yellowstone National Park. These areas are, too, where the bears recovery is strongest. Mixing these two booms has become a proven recipe for an uptick in grizzly sightings, encounters, attacks – and fatalities.

Cooley, however, doesn’t mess around when it comes to human safety. While she sympathizes heavily with the bears, she realizes that humans will always come first in the eyes of local government. And though Montana authorities will forgive first-time offending bears when they come too close to people – “repeat offenders” are not tolerated.

“Bears can [and do] kill people. And it’s something we don’t mess with,” Cooley tells 60 Minutes. “If there’s a threat to human safety, we remove it right off the bat.”

Unfortunately, this means Cooley herself has had to authorize the euthanization of nearly 50 bears just last year. “It’s the worst part of the job,” she sighs, “… but it’s necessary.”

Which population shoulders the blame?

Sometimes, however, it is the human who encroaches on bear territory. Some experts make the case that this is the reality of encounters more than 50% of the time – especially as flocks of people return to the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alaskan fisherman sit directly within Grizzly bear territory “to watch them fish.” (Photo credit: Daniel Wise / Barcroft Media via Getty Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

One such human will be quick to tell you – his near-fatal encounter with a grizzly bear was entirely his fault.

Anders Broste was attacked by a grizzly while in the wilderness near his Montana home a few years back. He tells 60 Minutes that it was he “who intruded on the bear.” And while Broste obviously never wishes to have this happen again, he knows their presence is part of what makes Montana special. And wild.

“I think it’s part of what makes Montana wild. If we didn’t have grizzly bears… it’d be a little less wild. They’re a part of our ecosystem,” Broste clarifies. The reality of his situation, however, serves as a cautionary tale to any who think they can approach a Grizzly bear.

“It bit my arm here, kind of thrashed it around and then bit my leg here. Started pulling on me and kind of tossing me around. And then it just dropped my foot and ran off. I literally remember his brown butt just running off into the woods.”

Anders Broste

His nasty encounter resulted in an immediate six days in the hospital. Following were “three surgeries and years of physical therapy.”  [H/T 60 Minutes]

Previously this year, we reported on the uptick in Grizzly bear encounters in the Yellowstone area >>>