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Scarce pine seeds boost chance of bear encounters

Creative Commons

A shortage of whitebark pine seeds could mean more human-bear interactions in western Wyoming this fall.

When whitebark pine seeds are plentiful, Yellowstone bears spend the fall gorging themselves on the fatty, protein-rich morsels, up in the high alpine. But not every year is good.

“It’s a boom-bust cycle, and there’s not always a high amount of pinecones available, so they just find other foods to eat,” says Wyoming Game and Fish Large Carnivore Supervisor Dan Thompson. 

This year is a bust. Recent surveys show an average of just five pine cones per tree, compared to last year’s average of thirty.

That means the bears will be on the move, looking for food to supplement the pine seeds. 

"You know, they might come into your camp. But if you’re keeping a clean camp, they’re going to keep going,” Thompson says.

He adds that hunters are particularly at risk of run-ins. Thompson recommends that all backcountry travelers carry bear spray -- and more importantly, know how to use it.

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