Hazing seems successful on habituated roadside repeat offender

(Lander, WY) – The dubbed “celebrity bears” have become quite the stir over the last several years. We are not talking about sightings of Yogi and Boo Boo, but the ones that impact Wyoming’s grizzly ecosystem.

Grizzly bear 863, better known as Felicia, and her two cubs have become essentially roadside attractions on Togwotee Pass and have made headlines over the last few weeks after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced plans to haze them away from the highway.

During the June 23rd “Coffee and Questions with Game & Fish” at the Lander Bake Shop, County 10 discussed Felicia’s situation with the Lander Region Large Carnivore Conflict Coordinator Brian DeBolt.

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He has been part of the multi-agency effort to find a management solution to this safety concern that impacts both the bears and people.

“Roadside bear issues in Wyoming are not a new thing,” he shared. “This particular family group on Togwotee Pass has been persistent and consistent. They have garnered a huge following of watchers.”

Felicia, who is approximately 8 years old, was born basically a roadside bear, according to Brian. She was relocated once already from the Beartooth Highway due to a similar issue where she was comfortable enough to climb around on cars.

There are at least four known instances on Togwotee, which is illegal to stop on, where people have tried to feed them things like horse feed and pastries, he explained.

“A habituated bear is not good. In a park setting, roadside habituated bears can be tolerated because there is one jurisdictional authority, the park. That’s not the case on Togwotee.”

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He noted that the USFWS, Wyoming Highway Patrol, Wyoming Game & Fish Department, and Wyoming Department of Transportation all have different roles in managing this situation.

“This has been a 4-year long situation with Felicia and growing and escalating to the point that it is extremely concerning about her long-term wellbeing,” Brian said.

Following the USFWS’s initial announcement on June 11th of their planned management tactics to get them away from the roadside, they were met with petitions and concerns from the public due to a more extreme option listed if the others didn’t work, euthanasia.

Brian attributes this blowback to what he calls the “bear paparazzi,” who according to him, “blatantly lied about what is going on up there and misled the public.”

“It’s the folks that camp out and take photos because they make money from them. They are sacrificing the bears’ long-term safety for photos.”

“Our goal is to have a healthy, wild population of grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem,” Brian said. “The focus on the ‘celebrity bears’ is detrimental to the system.”

The current hazing tactic, which has utilized bean bags, rubber bullets, and noise crackers, is seemingly working, he noted. However, this has been a previous pattern with Felicia and only time will tell.

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