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Dead Bears

2017 Third Deadly Year in a Row for Yellowstone Grizzly Bears

According to the federal government, a total of 50 known and probable grizzly bear deaths have occurred so far during 2017, the most recent dating back to November 2nd. Of these, all but 3 occurred inside the Demographic Monitoring Area (DMA). Given the lag in time between when deaths occur and when they are posted online, we can expect this total to increase before the last bears are in their dens.


This total is comparable to the record numbers of grizzly bear deaths recorded during 2015 and 2016. Further, "known" and "probable" mortalities are not the whole story, simply because many bear deaths go unrecorded. When you apply an estimator that the federal government uses to account for this unknown mortality, about 70 bears or roughly 10% of the 690 or so Yellowstone grizzly bears living inside the DMA have died during 2017.


As during 2015 and 2016, this death rate is about twice what can be sustained. It is not surprising that the population has almost certainly declined during the previous 3 years and will have likely declined again during the last 12 months.


The exponential increase in grizzly bear deaths that began during 2007 calls into question the wisdom of removing federal protections (“delisting”) and legalizing state-sponsored trophy hunting. It also raises questions about the deafening silence among government officials, to which there is actually an obvious answer. Admissions that Yellowstone grizzly bears still face severe threats could throw cold water on the government’s claims that delisting was warranted.

The graph at left places the grizzly bear mortalities recorded so far during 2017 in context of numbers recorded during the previous 4 years. Each line simply tracks the cumulative numbers of deaths for each year by date, culminating farthest right at the total observed at year's end. Date is shown on the horizontal (or x) axis, and numbers of known plus probable deaths on the vertical (or y) axis.

The take-home message is simple. Deaths accumulated at a slow pace during 2013-2014, especially after early July, culminating in comparatively low year-end totals. By contrast, grizzly bears deaths steadily increased up until September 1st during 2015, 2016, and now 2017, and then escalated thereafter. The pace during 2017 has been roughly 1 grizzly bear death every 2 days since hunting season started. Not coincidentally, a record number of deaths this year are probably attributable to hunters, betokened in the online government database as "under investigation"--a euphemism for deaths caused by guys with guns claiming self defense. Total deaths during 2017 will almost certainly be near the records set during 2015 and 2016.  

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