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Glacier National Park grizzly deaths

August 25, 2009 |  4:15 pm

Two grizzlies at Montana's Glacier National Park were killed by park officials last week — one, unfortunately, unintentionally.

Glacier National Park issued a press release today clarifying that the death of a male grizzly bear cub on Aug. 17 was attributed to a tranquilizer dart injection it received at the time its 17-year-old mother was being "humanely dispatched" (National Park-speak for "killed") for becoming too habituated to humans. A second cub, a female, was captured and will be transferred to the Bronx Zoo. Shown below is park officials transferring the cub to a larger trap.

Grizzly cub transfer The mother and yearling cubs had repeatedly been seen this summer hanging around the backcountry campground at Oldman Lake in the park's Two Medicine region, and their removal came after two separate incidents in which they approached humans "in a non-defensive situation," said the Park Service.

The mother bear had a number of run-ins with humans dating back to 2004, and the Park Service repeatedly used noise, Karelian Bear Dogs and other non-lethal methods to keep her away from humans. The park service began tracking her about five days before she was killed.

Anyone who's hiked in Glacier is made well-aware by park officials of the risks of recreating in grizzly country. The few times I've hiked there — including in the bear-intensive Many Glacier region — I've used "bear bells" to warn of my presence and carried a canister of bear spray. I would love to have seen a grizz, albeit from a very safe distance. According to park official Wade Muehlhof, the area near Oldman Lake (shown below) was closed sporadically this summer but is now open.

OldmanLake view This latest killing of bears in the name of public safety has already generated some buzz, specifically: Should the Park Service have done more to "decondition" the bears to humans? Check out this thought-provoking dispatch on New West. According to park officials, between 2004 and 2006, the mother and cubs approached hikers, forcing them off the trails; came into campground cooking areas; and sniffed and licked at tents during the night. Perhaps these areas should have been closed to humans, if not temporarily, then indefinitely.

And so now Glacier has lost three of its prized megafauna, including a breeding female. The second cub is awaiting transport to a zoo thousands of miles away. Why the Bronx Zoo, I asked Muehlhof? U.S. Fish and Wildlife coordinates placement of grizzlies into captive facilities, he said, and the zoo was the only federally approved facility that would take her.

—Julie Sheer

Photos by Wade Muehlhof / National Park Service

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