It doesn’t take much to start a bear jam. One car parked in the middle of the roadway turns into two and then twenty and then two hundred. Doors fly open. Eager visitors scramble out. A diverse crowd of smiles, cheers, and maybe even a few tears. For those in the yellow vests, bear jams are an adrenaline-filled, hair-pulling, deeply rewarding, headshaking, can’t-get-enough experience.
Since 2008, the Wildlife Brigade has strived to provide exceptional wildlife viewing opportunities for park visitors while allowing wild animals unimpeded access to habitat and also providing for human safety. With support from Grand Teton National Park Foundation, the program has grown tremendously since its inception. Today, the Wildlife Brigade is composed of a bear biologist, two seasonal wildlife management rangers, and over thirty dedicated volunteers, providing coverage seven days a week during the summer.
Fifteen years ago, it was uncommon to see a grizzly bear in the southern half of the park. Grizzly bears now frequent all corners of Grand Teton, and there are more wildlife watchers than ever hoping to catch a glimpse. Since 2008, the Wildlife Brigade has adapted to these changes by piloting new strategies and increasing staff training and capacity, and looking to the future, they’ll continue to evolve in facing new and growing challenges.
In 2022, the Wildlife Brigade responded to 840 jams for black and grizzly bears, moose, elk, river otters, and great gray owls. But that’s not all! Staff patrolled developed areas to secure unattended bear attractants (e.g., food, coolers, etc.), educated visitors about how to stay safe in bear country, and partnered with other agencies on local community events. The team also utilized a bear education trailer in the park to talk about bear ecology and safety while demonstrating the use of bear spray. In total, Wildlife Brigade volunteers contributed 12,105 hours to wildlife conservation efforts in 2022!
The Wildlife Brigade looks forward to continued partnership with the Foundation to succeed in these efforts in 2023 and beyond.