Grizzly 399 has defied the odds in every way, surviving and producing a litter of four cubs when she should be enjoying old age.
It isn’t everyday that you get to see a living icon. But that is what we were headed for, although we didn’t know it. On Monday, May 18, we were first in line at the Wilson entrance to Grand Teton National Park for the limited opening of the Park. At just a little before noon, a ranger waved us in and we were off. As we traveled north through the park, we were a little surprised and disappointed that wildlife in abundance wasn’t lining the roads that have been off limits to visitors for the last two months due to Covid-19 restrictions. That was about to change.
After finding that most of our favorite haunts—Signal Mountain, Cattleman’s Crossing and Two Ocean Lake—were all still closed, we headed toward Yellowstone National Park. We have driven from Moran to Flagg Ranch dozens of times and rarely see wildlife so my expectations weren’t high. Things were different though when the Pilgrim Creek bridge came into view. Dozens of cars lined the road and visitors armed with cameras, spotting scopes and binoculars were being herded by half dozen rangers.
I asked a photographer what was going on. “You just missed her”, he said. “Who?” I replied. He looked at me like I was an idiot and said simply, “399”. Crazy, but I knew exactly what and who he was talking about. Grizzly Bear 399, so dubbed by researchers long before she was famous, is possibly the best-known grizzly in the world, and a highly successful mother. She is likely the only bear in the world with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. She was late leaving her den this year though and there was concern that this matriarch of grizzlies had, at 24, surrendered to old age.
Instead of succumbing, this old gal surprised everyone by emerging from her den on the first day the park was open to take her four, yes, four new cubs down to her familiar haunt near the highway at Pilgrim Creek. Grizzly 399 has reared several sets of triplets and has produced at least 20 children and grandchildren including this year’s quartet. However, her reproductive capacity should have peaked years ago, yet there she was with a rarity, and for her, a personal best.
Much of 399’s fame comes from being highly visible to tourists and photographers. Researchers have determined that this is not an accident. The greatest threat a grizzly bear cub faces is from boar grizzlies that attempt to kill the cubs and thus bring the female back into estrus for breeding. Grizzly 399 and her nearly equally famous offspring, another female dubbed 610, have taken to living near roads and people as a way of discouraging boars, which tend to shy away from the more populated areas. It is always a somewhat tenuous grizzly-human truce, but for most of 399’s life it has worked, and she can raise her cubs in peace.
We decided to hang out for a while, not overly hopeful that we would catch a glimpse of the famous bear. But soon, a lady next to me with a spotting scope whispered to herself, “There they are!” She graciously pointed them out to me and I was able to get a photograph of a mama bear who should be past her prime and her greatest achievement yet—four cubs.
Grizzly 399’s amazing story should give hope to all of us seniors that life is far from over. We can still defy the odds and choose the life we live.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho