Wyoming Grizzly Bear Attack Amplifies Need for Species’ Management

Wyoming Grizzly Bear Attack Amplifies Need for Species’ Management

Another grizzly bear made the news after it attacked two male college students while they were shed antler hunting in Wyoming on Oct. 15. Thankfully, the attack was not fatal, but as human-grizzly encounters escalate, the calls for grizzly bear management are growing.

So far, animal rights extremists and their well-funded lawsuits have kept the big bears under protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), though even government studies and reports prove that the grizzly bear is yet another conservation success story, with grizzly populations restored far, far above ESA goals. This most recent attack once again suggests that grizzlies have reached what wildlife biologists’ term “social carrying capacity,” or that point where the number of grizzly and human conflicts are such that grizzly numbers must be reduced. Hunting, of course, is one tool to reduce wildlife numbers while still keeping overall population numbers stable and sustainable.

This latest attack occurred last Saturday and involved Kendell Cummings of Evanston and Brady Lowry of Cedar City, Utah, both sophomores at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo. The young men were shed antler hunting at the Shoshone National Forest south of Cody, Wyo., with two friends, all members of the Northwest College wrestling team.

At one point in their search for antlers, the group split up, with Cummings and Lowry heading to a higher elevation where a single grizzly appeared and rushed the pair.

"Before you could even think or blink, there’s a bear that came running out of the trees right in front of me," said Lowry, the first of the two to be attacked, as FOX News reported. Before Lowry could react, “It was beating me up pretty good," he said.

“Pretty good” is an understatement. Lowry suffered a broken arm and was bitten deeply in the right thigh. “He eventually curled up in a ball during the attack,” the report noted. “Seeing his friend in danger, Cummings yelled and then grabbed the bear before being chased by the animal itself.” Cummings was severely mauled on the head and face.

Fortunately, the bear left before doing further damage. Lowry was able to call 9-1-1 once Cummings had pulled the bear off, and first responders quickly arrived on the scene. Cummings and Lowry were rushed to a nearby hospital, and both were expected to make full recoveries.

While grizzly bear attacks on humans are rare, a press release issued by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) noted that the area where the attack occurred had seen “an abundance of bear activity at low elevations throughout the South Fork and North Fork of the Shoshone River, Clarks Fork River and Greybull River drainages.”

“In the vicinity where the attack occurred, reports from landowners and hunters indicate there may be six to 10 different bears moving between agricultural fields and low elevation slopes,” said Dan Smith, WGFD’s Cody Region Wildlife Supervisor, in the release. “Game and Fish will continue to monitor bear activity in the area and work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to make management decisions in the best interest of public safety.”

Actually, the USFWS made a huge management decision in March 2016 when it announced it would remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) from ESA protections. The GYE, which spans northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, was and is the core area of grizzly bear recovery efforts. Those efforts began in 1975 when grizzly numbers in the GYE were thought to be as low as 136 individual animals.

Last year, according to USFWS’ Grizzly Bear Recovery Program 2021 Annual Report, the area was home to an estimated 1,069 grizzly bears. The report also noted that grizzlies have established themselves in areas beyond the GYE, and these populations are yet to be estimated.

As the reported added, the original recovery criterion for the GYE was to “maintain a minimum population size of 500 animals and at least 48 females with cubs-of-the-year within the [recovery region].” At the time of the report, there were not only the above-cited 1,069 bears in the region, but also 84 unique females with cubs.

Following the USFWS’ original delisting announcement, the game agencies in both Idaho and Wyoming began planning grizzly bear hunts. The hunts were set for September 2018 with a minimal number of bears to be harvested. But before the hunt could happen, animal rights extremists sued the USFWS, claiming the data on the bears was incomplete and that the animals still required federal protection. And they were successful.

As the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum website reported, Federal U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen overturned the USFWS’s delisting decision. “ … [I]n his ruling, Christensen noted, ‘an estimated 50,000 bears once roamed the contiguous United States’ and said it would be ‘simplistic at best and disingenuous at worst’ not to consider the status of grizzlies outside the Yellowstone region, one of the few areas where they have bounced back.”

What the judge seemed to fail to understand was that ESA recovery is about creating sustainable populations of endangered and threatened species—not about returning these populations to pre-European-settlement numbers.

Unlike their smaller, much shier black bear cousins, grizzlies have little to no fear of people, a problem that escalates with those that become “food-conditioned.” Given their size, strength and ferocious nature, as well as their growing populations in and around the GYE, expect more and more of the kinds of attacks Cummings and Lowry experienced as well as some that no doubt will be fatal.

About the Author contributor Brian McCombie is a field editor for the NRA’s American Hunter and writes about firearms and gear for the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian likes hunting hogs, shooting 1911s chambered in 10mm and .45 ACP, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with his two cats, Peanut Morgan and MikaBear.