Crash kills grizzly cub
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: June 22, 2012
A young grizzly bear died after being hit by a car Thursday in Grand Teton National Park.
The driver of the car, which was totaled in the crash on Highway 26/89/191 north of Moose, sustained minor injuries and was transported to St. John’s Medical Center. The park did not release the name of the injured driver, but did state he was discharged from the hospital within an hour.
The rollover collision happened at approximately 9 a.m. one mile south of the Snake River Overlook.
Park officials had not completed an accident investigation by Thursday afternoon but they did release some details reported by the driver, park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.
The driver told rangers he hit the bear after swerving to avoid another vehicle that had stopped in the road. The driver in the other vehicle was about to make a U-turn to go back and see the bruin, the injured driver reported.
The white sedan involved in the accident was northbound and rolled several times after hitting the bear. It came to rest about 100 feet into the sagebrush on the west side of the highway.
Grand Teton rangers closed one lane of the highway, but let north- and south-bound traffic alternate through the constriction until about 12:30 p.m.
The male grizzly cub hit in the crash died of internal injuries, the park said.
“This is one of the issues with having young bears that don’t have lots of experience with vehicles,” Skaggs said.
Cars kill grizzlies infrequently in the park but regularly in the region.
“Unfortunately, this happens every couple of years in Grand Teton National Park,” said Sue Consolo Murphy, Grand Teton’s chief of science and resource manage-ment. “Ecosystemwide, it probably happens several times a year.”
Witnesses told park officials that the dead yearling male was traveling on its own. Because the cub had separated from its mother as a 1-year-old — a year earlier than usual — its odds of survival weren’t very good, Murphy said.
Park wildlife biologist Sarah Dewey examined the bear hours after the crash and determined it was mostly healthy.
The death of a single animal won’t diminish the overall strength of the park’s grizzly population, which has increased as the bears have expanded in range in recent years, Skaggs said.
“The loss of one bear, although sad on a personal level, wouldn’t be considered a tragedy on a population level,” she said.
Grand Teton biologists don’t have an estimate for the park population.
Wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, who said he arrived at the accident scene shortly after the rollover, knew a bear had been in the area.
“I heard that a young bear had been crossing the road regularly here over the last couple weeks,” Mangelsen said from an overlook near the accident. “It’s a sad day to lose a grizzly to a car.”
It’s “unlikely but possible” that the deceased grizzly was the 1-year-old male cub of “bear 399,” perhaps the park’s best known grizzly, Mangelsen said.
Bear 399’s cubs, known as “Ash” and “Brownie,” were cast off one year earlier than usual by their mother this spring. From May through mid-June, the cubs were traveling on their own, but they reunited about eight days ago, Mangelsen said.
The photographer said he observed Ash and Brownie on Wednesday for about three hours near Windy Point, which is across the Snake River and five or six miles south from where the cub was killed Thursday. The cubs have stuck together close to that area for about a week, Mangelsen said.
Park officials should know more details about the yearling soon.
Because Greater Yellowstone Area grizzlies are listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List, officials have to follow strict protocols after a death.
Biologists collect hair, tissue and tooth samples to identify animals. DNA testing will determine whether the yearling is one of 399’s offspring.
A statement from the park said that vehicle collisions cause “well over 100 animal” fatalities per year. This is the first bear fatality caused by a vehicle in the park this year.
Regulations mandate that drivers report all accidents involving property damage, personal injury or the injury or death of wildlife.