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Grizzly, people run-ins in Yellowstone area drop in 2013, but long-term trend shows increase

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BILLINGS, Mont. - Conflicts between humans and grizzly bears in the region around Yellowstone National Park dropped last year, but that wasn't enough to reverse a long-term trend of more potentially dangerous interactions as populations of both bruins and people increase.

A new report by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team shows 252 grizzly run-ins were documented last year. They ranged from bears attacking livestock and damaging property in search of food to surprising backcountry encounters. Six people were injured by grizzlies — the same as in 2012.

Study team leader Frank van Manen said the number of conflicts decreased from the annual average of 270 for the prior three years. That's almost double the number seen on average between 1992 and 2009.

There are an estimated 740 bears in the region that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and adjacent portions of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Almost two-thirds of last year's conflicts occurred in northeast Wyoming, where grizzlies have filled up more remote habitat and in recent years have been pushing into areas with more people and livestock. That's also been happening in Montana, particularly in the Red Lodge area, according to Montana wildlife officials.

The number of people in the Yellowstone area has been increasing. With more bears meeting more people in more places, Van Manen said he expects the level of conflicts to persist for the foreseeable future.

Measures taken in recent years to drive down the trend — such as using bear-proof garbage containers and discouraging the use of bird feeders that attract bears — will have to continue spreading to keep up with the grizzlies' expanding range, he said.

"As long as we have bears at this level, the problems are here to stay," he said. "It's a matter of containing the problems over time and hopefully reducing those."

Grizzlies received federal protections in 1975 after they had been wiped out across much of their historical range.

The Yellowstone population has slowly rebounded and now hosts the second-largest concentration of grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states. Those bears range across 19,000 square miles centred on the high country of Yellowstone and surrounding national forests.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether the population has recovered enough for federal protections to be lifted.

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