The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still investigating the killing of an adult female grizzly bear near Island Park. The shooting happened on September 12.
While that investigation continues, Idaho Fish and Game is working to monitor the bear's two orphaned cubs. Fish and Game says some have called for officials to capture the bears and take them to a rehabilitation center to help them survive. But Fish and Game reports these cubs should be able to survive on their own.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Fish and Game reported that when they measured the young bears' front paw pad prints at the scene where the sow was shot and compared those measurements to hundreds of previous measurements from other cubs of the year, it is clear these bears are yearlings, meaning the cubs had already gone through an entire year and hibernation with their mother.
Idaho Fish and Game large carnivore biologist Bryan Aber, who is part of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team said, "7 centimeters is the standard for cubs of the year in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, measurements I made of the cub's front pad prints were 8.5 and 9 centimeters. This measurement clearly makes these bears yearlings."
The distinction between cubs of the year and yearling is of major importance.
"Orphaned cubs of the year generally stand little chance of survival if left on their own heading into winter," Aber said. "Yearlings that are in good condition stand a very good chance of surviving."
The policy of the state and federal agencies managing grizzly bears is to not capture orphaned yearlings because they have good a chance of surviving in the wild.
"Rehab with grizzlies is really not an option. Grizzly bears cannot be captured and held in a facility and released later. If these bears were captured they would have to put in permanent captivity in a zoo or euthanized," said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The bears appear to be in good shape, and by reports they are at least 100 pounds. They have been observed feeding in the forest on elk gut piles, so as long as they stay away from humans they should be able to go into hibernation later successfully," Aber said.
"If these bears get into conflicts they may be captured and relocated to another area, but this will only be done as a last resort. Their best opportunity to survive is to be left within the habitats where they grew up, and for residents to make sure all attractants like bird feeders, pet food, livestock feed and garbage are secured and unavailable to bears," Chris Servheen said.
The incident is under investigation because the grizzly bear still is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Decisions regarding the handling of grizzly bears fall under the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service.