If you’ve been following our blog and our posts on social media this summer (and we certainly hope you have!), you’ll no doubt be aware that one of our summer interns, Pietro Castelli, has been conducting a study on bear conflicts in Jackson and the surrounding areas. Well, after more than three months of gathering survey responses and conducting analysis, he has concluded his research!
After consulting with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, and the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, Pietro determined that human/bear conflicts were the most important to study. These conflicts are usually the most publicized, have tremendous capacity to increase in the coming years, and are typically the most damaging to bears, humans, and property. This past summer was also a fateful time to study bear conflicts as well publicized accounts of attacks on humans, in two instances fatal to the humans, happened in Alaska and Colorado, and the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears were removed from the Endangered Species List, handing their management back to the states.
To gather data, Pietro and the former Director of Conservation at the Alliance Siva Sundaresan created and circulated a survey to Teton County residents. The survey had three sections of questions, on people’s experiences with bear conflicts, their knowledge of current bear conflict regulations, and their opinions on potential bear conflict mitigation strategies. The survey was publicized through Alliance communications, a story in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, and a radio interview on KHOL 89.1. In the three weeks that the survey was available, over 80 responses were recorded; although a few had to be discarded for various reasons, most were included in the analysis.
The analysis period was mostly focused on the third section of the survey, the section that asked respondents how they would feel about certain conflict mitigation strategies. As it turns out, many Teton County residents are against regulations banning backyard bear-attractants such as compost piles, berry bushes, and outdoor grill storage (especially that last one!). However, analysis did point out that most respondents would be amenable to the increased use and enforcement of bear-resistant garbage containers.
While adding regulations may not be a priority at this time, if bear conflicts increase in the future, this strategy is something that the town could pursue. If humans have fewer conflicts with bears, Jackson can be a safer environment for the coexistence of both species. This should be our goal.
With the conclusion of this project, Pietro has fulfilled all the requirements for his M.S. degree in Animals and Public Policy from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Due to the mountains grabbing him by the heart, he is going to stay in Jackson, and hopes to keep working in wildlife and land conservation. He would like to thank the Conservation Alliance and Craig Benjamin for giving him the opportunity to move here and do this work, Siva Sundaresan and Dr. Allen Rutberg for guidance and advice, and Jon Mobeck, Aly Courtemanch, and Chris Colligan for their help in developing this project.