A grizzly bear mother and her two cubs are at risk of relocating or even dying after taking up residence near a Wyoming highway.
Bear, known as “Felicia” to Jackson Hole residents, poses threat, wildlife officials say due to family’s proximity to 55-mile highway in Togwotee Mountain Pass .
People have also been seen approaching and feeding the bears.
“Human conditioned behavior,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a press release, could lead to aggressive behavior in bears.
If park rangers are unable to scare the bear away using rubber bullets or loud noises over the next 10-14 days, the US Fish and Wildlife Service says Felicia and her cubs will be probably displaced or euthanized.
Wildlife advocates, including Savannah Rose Burgess, say euthanasia shouldn’t be an option. Burgess launched a petition on June 11 to save Felicia and her cubs, which had more than 34,500 signatures on Thursday.
Along with his team, Burgess is also working to launch a bear ambassador program where one or more people would ensure that visitors follow proper guidelines around bears.
“Here we have the opportunity to make a really impactful change,” Burgess told USA TODAY. “It’s absolutely horrible to try to think about removing this animal. She’s important and she’s vital, and not just vital to her species in the reproductive sense.”
She has been in contact with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is open to her efforts and works with her.
Felicia, according to Burgess, has never been aggressive or accused anyone. Award-winning wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen, who has documented Felicia for over six years, also says she is very calm and serene.
“This is more of a people management issue than a bear management issue. We need more people on the ground who are trained and educated,” Mangelsen told USA TODAY.
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Mangelsen and his assistant, Susan Cedarholm, are working with different entities such as the Forest Service and the Wildlife Service to find a solution to keep Felicia alive and other bears that might present themselves.
“We are all working for the same cause,” Mangelsen said.
Jack Bayles, owner of Team399 which helps fund grizzly bear education and protection, says it’s up to the person to be made aware of the bear guidelines. An incident happened in Yellowstone National Park where a woman ignored park rules to stay 100 yards from bears, and it ended up indicting her.
“I think the bear ambassador program can be very effective. The Grand Teton National Park Wildlife Brigade, for example, has been very successful in dealing with people in these situations,” Bayles said.
Bayles said part of keeping bears alive is respecting their boundaries.
“The bears haven’t done anything wrong. It just so happens that there’s just a road going through its territory,” Bayles said. “I think the onus is on the public to understand what their role is when they enter grizzly habitat.”