A representative from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department spoke with U.S. Congress on Wednesday about new ways for technology to help reduce the growing number of wilderness conflicts between humans and predators.
Testifying before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works — a committee co-chaired by Sen. John Barrasso — Jackson Regional Wildlife Supervisor Brad Hovinga walked lawmakers through the increasing number of encounters between humans and grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and potential solutions to reduce them. These included simple solutions — such as storing food and trash in secure containers — and more sophisticated ones, including portable, electrified fences.
These could become more critical in the future, Hovinga hinted, as grizzly populations continue to grow.
“Long-term trends in the number of conflicts is likely a result of grizzly bears increasing in numbers and distribution and expanding into areas used by humans, including livestock production on public and private lands,” he said in his testimony. “As the GYE grizzly bear population continues to grow and expand into less suitable habitat, bears are more likely to encounter food sources such as garbage, pet food, livestock and livestock feed, and myriad other attractants, resulting in increased property damage and threats to human safety.”
The state has had success in minimizing conflicts between bears and humans with a number of different programs, Hovinga said, including the state’s Bear Wise outreach program and the state’s usual capture and monitoring efforts. However, Hovinga expects it would be worthwhile to invest in the development of new technologies, including drones, improved taser technology and more potent forms of bear spray — a standard familiar to any backcountry hiker in the Rockies.
Those opportunities, he said, are most likely to develop “through partnerships between private industries and government organizations with a reasonable and practical investment of financial resources in the initial stages of development.”
Hovinga’s testimony on the topic was no coincidence: Wednesday’s discussion came as part of a larger conversation around Barrasso’s Promoting Resourceful and Effective Deterrents Against Threats Or Risks involving Species Act, colloquially called the “PREDATORS Act.” The bill, Barrasso said, would establish a sixth Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize, which would authorize $100,000 in funding to spur the research and development of “non-lethal, innovative technologies that reduce conflict between human and wildlife predators.”
Though Hovinga’s expertise is in managing conflicts with grizzlies, the technologies and techniques used by Wyoming Game and Fish could easily be employed in other settings, he said.
“Although much of what I have talked about today revolves around conflict between humans and grizzly bears, it is important to realize that developments on that front are likely to have significant application and provide solutions for conflicts between humans and other wildlife species,” he said to conclude his testimony. “Technologies that are effective for grizzly bears would most certainly be an effective tool in dealing with conflicts involving moose, elk and other large carnivores.”