Today’s grizzly bears of Yellowstone are staring down the greatest threat to their survival since the park was founded in 1872. The most important bear food in this ecosystem, the nuts of whitebark pine trees, has succumbed to an infestation of mountain pine beetles, an invasion made possible from the persistent trend of warmer winter temperatures in the high mountains. Punctuating the controversy raging around the consequences of climate change on bears, two people have been killed by grizzlies during 2010 on the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park–the first time in history two human deaths have been recorded in that ecosystem during a single year, a year that is far from over.
The first fatality occurred on June 18th just seven miles from Yellowstone Park’s east entrance at Kitty Creek. A 70-year-old botanist, Erwin Evert, took his customary walk near his summer home and unexpectedly ran into perhaps the most dangerous of bears–a recently snared and radio collared grizzly who was waking up from a tranquillizer administrated only hours before by researchers working for the federal Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
The second attack took place outside the northeast entrance to Yellowstone near Cooke City, at the Soda Butte Campground in the national forest on July 28. A bear injured two campers in their tents and killed another man, Kevin Kammer, at his campsite; the victim was partially consumed.
The next day, three members of a grizzly bear family, an adult mother and three yearling cubs, were captured at theSoda Butte. All four animals were considered malnourished, or below the average weight of grizzlies at those ages. The responding warden, Captain Sam Sheppard of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, immediately labeled the incident a “highly unusual predatory attack,” saying, “She basically targeted the three people and went after them.” The New York Times and Associated Press subsequently reported, under the headline “Killer Bear Had Parasites,” that “poor nutrition alone did not explain such predatory behavior.”