2019 saw another 50-plus grizzly mortalities

by Chris Peterson
Editor | February 12, 2020 6:31 AM

For the second year in a row, 51 grizzly bear deaths were recorded across the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in 2019. That ties 2018’s record.

The No.1 cause of death in ‘19 was livestock depredation as bears got into trouble with ranchers and their stock. A total of 12 bears were killed for that reason.

Human habituation and food conditioning, where bears get into garbage, pet foods, picnics and the like was also a major cause of death, with nine bear deaths reported from that cause.

The third leading cause of death was due to train collisions, with eight, and automobiles, seven.

In 2018, the No. 1 cause of death was vehicle collisions — 17.

Other causes of death this year included one death from being captured, two from a human in self-defense, one from defense of property, one from injury or disease, one poached, one by another predator, two were undetermined, and three are still under investigation.

Two bears were moved to the Cabinet-Yaak region, but they count as “mortalities” in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Only one bear was found to have died from natural causes.

The train deaths this year have prompted a notice of intent to sue Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project. They claim trains have directly caused or resulted in the deaths of 52 grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem since 1980.

Last year was particularly bad, after an incident where cows were killed by a trains during a late September snowstorm near East Glacier Park. The cow carcasses were apparently not cleaned up in a expedient manner, which attracted several bears to the site.

Some were killed by trains, others were hit by cars crossing the highway to get to the dead cows.

Separately, two more bears were killed after they were hit by trains near Trego. In that case, the bears were actually reported by Forest Service employees, not BNSF, even though a train was reportedly sitting over a bear when biologists went on the scene to investigate.

Grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Federal courts have ruled that the NCDE population and the greater Yellowstone population, about 1,800 bears total, is not recovered because there’s no evidence of connectivity, and thus genetic flow, between the two populations.

Some independent bear biologists agree, while the state and the federal government are currently appealing the lower court ruling to the Ninth Circuit District Court of Appeals.

A ruling from that court has yet to be issued.