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Grizzly bear numbers soar near Yellowstone

Associated Press / October 29, 2010

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BOZEMAN, Mont. — Grizzly bear numbers in and around Yellowstone National Park have hit their highest level in decades, driving increased conflicts with humans as some bears push out of deep wilderness and into populated areas.

Scientists from a multiagency research team announced Wednesday that at least 603 grizzlies now roam the Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. That’s more than three times the number in 1975, when hunting was outlawed and the species placed on the endangered list.

But more bears also means more run-ins with humans, although biologists are quick to point out that visitors to the region are more likely to die in a vehicle crash than a grizzly mauling.

Two people have been killed by grizzlies in the Yellowstone region this year: one west of Cody, Wyo., and another near Cooke City, Mont.

In the latest encounter, on Wednesday, a hunter in Wyoming reported to authorities that he was attacked by a grizzly that he shot and killed in self-defense.

The man, whose name was not available, suffered lacerations from a bite to the leg. The injuries were not considered life threatening.

The incident remained under investigation, and the death of the bear was not immediately confirmed. It would mark the 46th grizzly killed or removed from the wild this year. Factoring in unreported killings, wildlife officials estimate at least 62 bears killed or removed this year.

The last time so many bears died, in 2008, the population dipped the following year.

But the head of the grizzly research team said only 11 of the known bear deaths were adult females, diminishing worries that the species’ long-term recovery could stall.

“Our population is strong, our counts of females are high,’’ said Chuck Schwartz, a US Geological Survey scientist who heads the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

Schwartz added that the 603 population figure was a conservative estimate.

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