Famous Wyoming grizzly bear cubs chased from a risk area


By NICOLE POLLACK

Casper Star-Tribune

CASPER, Wyo. – Felicia, the grizzly mother whose problems have captured the hearts of the internet, has managed to get her young through a perilous summer.

His fans miss the little bear family grazing and frolicking along the Togwotee Pass. But they hope, for Felicia’s sake, that she stays out of sight.

This spring, a record number of tourists were already clogging the roads around Wyoming’s national parks when Felicia emerged from hibernation with two fluffy, clumsy, roly-poly cubs and established herself by the side of the freeway. Passers-by were mesmerized. Bear jams have proliferated.

The congestion wasn’t just a nuisance, however. Too many drivers were noticing Felicia and her cubs swerving off the side of a highway at 55 miles an hour and letting their cars approach bears – in violation of posted signs that prohibited exactly that, reports the Casper Star -Tribune.

None of the human recklessness was Felicia’s fault. But three different government agencies oversaw Felicia, the road, and the land she inhabited. These agencies did not have the resources to permanently enforce parking laws or maintain the protections afforded to grizzly bears, an endangered species, under the Endangered Species Act. So rather than trying to manage people, the officials managed the bear.

Rangers typically use pain and noise to train bears to fear unwanted places. This strategy, known as hazing, separated Felicia from her little survivor for a month in 2019. Although the two eventually reunited, the little one did not survive the following winter.

When the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced on June 11 that they intended to get Felicia off the road, her fan base panicked.

A single sentence from the press release fueled the outcry: “If the hazing does not resolve the conflicts over the Togwotee Pass, the growing management options include relocation and possibly euthanasia.” “

Bear supporters trended #SaveFelicia on Twitter. They started a petition that ultimately garnered over 76,000 signatures. They advocated for an “ambassador” program to let her stay where she was. And they fought against their own attachment to Felicia: they wanted to keep seeing her, but they didn’t want to endanger her.

Amid the backlash, the agency went back on its previous statement and said it was not considering euthanasia for Felicia. The clarification didn’t do much to appease his fans.

Hazing, while less risky than moving, is not a perfect solution. This can cause bears to act erratically around roads, increasing the risk of collisions. He can separate mothers from their cubs – sometimes temporarily, like with Felicia in 2019, and sometimes permanently. But it can also work. In Felicia’s case, the hazing worked.

Almost four months after Felicia – known to rangers as the grizzly 863 – fled a barrage of rubber bullets, bean bags and noise makers, the bear maintained its distance from roads, vehicles and to people, and kept her cubs by her side.

“The hazing and monitoring efforts for grizzly bear # 863 at Togwotee Pass have had positive results so far,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said in an emailed statement. “The Service continues to staff the area with biologists who monitor # 863 and the cubs, and carry out hazing when needed. Those watching have seen Bear # 863 less frequently, possibly due to hazing efforts and changing food sources.

Felicia and her cubs, while rare, are doing well, said Tom Mangelsen, a wildlife photographer who spotted – and photographed – the bears during a recent visit to the Continental Divide.

“I just looked down the valley, and there she was about three hundred yards up that valley to the east,” he said. “And then she came up the side of the hill, and there’s a forest service guy over there.”

According to Mangelsen, the ranger was not carrying any hazing equipment. Instead, he just yelled at Felicia and the cubs.

“She was obviously scared,” he said. “And she went into the woods and disappeared.”

About Norman Griggs

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