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Grizzly bear deaths in Montana’s portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were up last year from 2019 and were higher than the 10-year average, according to a state report shared this week.

In 2020, 17 grizzly bear deaths were recorded in Montana’s portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, according to data shared by Kevin Frey, a grizzly bear management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Nine females, seven males and one cub of an unknown sex died last year. Three bears died in self-defense situations. One bear was relocated.

There were seven more deaths last year than in 2019 and seven more than the 10-year average, according to the data.

Livestock depredation was cause for the majority of the bear deaths this year, followed by property loss or human safety concerns. Vehicles hit and killed two bears. Another bear death was an illegal kill that is still being investigated, Frey said.

The mortality numbers were presented at a Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meeting on Wednesday. The subcommittee is a collection of government agencies responsible for helping grizzly bears recover in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The more than five million acre ecosystem spans Yellowstone National Park and parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

While mortalities were up, grizzly bear conflicts in Montana’s portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were down last year from 2019 but still above the 10-year average, according to the report.

There were 87 total grizzly bear conflicts recorded in Montana’s portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 2020 — 24 fewer than in 2019.

The Montana conflict numbers were reported slightly above the 10-year average of 81 conflicts.

Almost two-thirds of the reported conflicts happened on private land — the other 37% were on public land. Conflicts listed in the report ranged from human-bear encounters to livestock depredation.

Information presented Wednesday indicated that 37 of the conflicts recorded in Montana’s portion of the GYE in 2020 occurred in a smaller grizzly bear recovery zone, which reaches beyond Yellowstone National Park into the bordering states.

Another 26 of Montana’s conflicts last year occurred in the demographic monitoring area. The DMA reaches farther out from the recovery zone, a space where scientists estimate bear numbers.

The highest number of conflicts — 38 in total — occurred outside of the DMA. The data shows that in Montana, there’s as many grizzly-related conflicts in the bears’ core habitat as there are beyond the boundary of the recovery zone, Frey said.

Out of the 87 grizzly bear conflicts in Montana’s portion of the GYE in 2020, 14 were encounters between bears and humans. The majority of those situations occurred on public land, and four people were injured.

Grizzlies preying on livestock accounted for 33 of the conflicts. A little more than half of the livestock-related conflicts occurred on private land. Two sheep, six poultry and 32 cattle were killed or injured by grizzlies.

Fifteen conflicts were recorded after bears got ahold of human food or damaged property. Grizzly-related safety concerns near developed sites represented 24 more conflicts.

In Yellowstone National Park, there were 19 grizzly bear encounters in backcountry areas and three bear charges in 2020, according to data shared by Kerry Gunther, a Yellowstone bear management biologist.

Of the three charges by grizzlies last year, one bear made physical contact with a person. One person suffered minor injuries from a grizzly attack. Bear spray was deployed on grizzlies twice in the park.

Yellowstone-area grizzly bear populations are increasing and their range is expanding, in large part due to Endangered Species Act protections. As bears roam farther beyond the boundaries of recovery zones designated for their conservation in 1993, the animals are coming into contact with more people.

In response to increasing human-bear conflicts, officials are increasing efforts to reduce the incidents and prepare people for more bears on the landscape.

Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee members said at Wednesday’s meeting that they plan to increase food and game carcass storage at backcountry campsites, develop consistent food storage orders across ecosystems and partner with non-governmental organizations to organize and fund “bear-aware” education programs.

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