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Grizzly bears continue to expand territory in Wind River Range as recreation increases

People stand behind a Grizzly Bear taking photos with telephoto lenses.
Erik Kahl
4th Place - Wyoming's People Category - Erik Kahl, "Grizzly's Shadow"

Grizzly bears have expanded into new parts of Wyoming in recent years, including the southern reaches of the Wind River Range.

That territory increase comes as more people are recreating in the Winds than ever before.

In 2023, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) estimated there are just over 1,000 grizzlies in the state as the population continues to swell.

For years, the agency has observed the bears in the mountain range, portions of which lie on the Wind River Reservation – although the species has lower densities there than in other parts of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Grizzlies are still listed as federally threatened, though Wyoming officials would like to see them delisted and for management control to be handed to the state.

But many conservation groups want federal protections to remain in place.

“Feels like bears and people are being punished for the successful recovery and conservation of grizzly bears, to the point where they're moving into these areas where they're more prone to get in trouble,” said Dan Thompson, a large carnivore section supervisor for WGFD.

A muddy bear paw print.
Caitlin Tan
/
Wyoming Public Media
A paw print, likely from a grizzly, in the Upper Green area in Sublette County.

Last September, a backpacker went missing in the Winds near an area where some hikers said a grizzly was repeatedly sighted.

However, there’s still no evidence linking the disappearance to a grizzly encounter.

“The reality of the situation is, with an abundance of bears and an abundance of people, there's always gonna be that potential for conflict,” Thompson said.

In general, Thompson added that when it comes to conflicts with humans, food-conditioned black bears have lately been a bigger problem in the Shoshone National Forest than grizzlies.

He emphasized the importance of making noise when hiking in grizzly habitat, staying on main trails and consulting the agency’s Bear Wise website.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

Chris Clements is a state government reporter and digital media specialist for Wyoming Public Media based in Laramie. He came to WPM from KSJD Radio in Cortez, Colorado, where he reported on Indigenous affairs, drought, and local politics in the Four Corners region. Before that, he graduated with a degree in English (Creative Writing) from Arizona State University. Chris's news stories have been featured on KUNC, NPR newscasts, and National Native News, among others.

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