A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report on a fatal bear mauling at the Soda Butte Campground is a cover-up and a cop-out that fails to address the root problems that led to the death of 48 year-old Kevin Kammer. If officials provided the public with all relevant facts about camping with grizzlies at Soda Butte, only people with a death-wish would stay there.
On July 28, a sow grizzly with three yearlings tore into tents in the middle of the night at the Gallatin National Forest’s Soda Butte Campground near Cooke City, Mont., injuring two people and killing Kammer. According to the report, the bear(s) “consumed a significant portion” of Kammer’s torso.
“The bottom line is that we can not come up with a clear explanation as to why the bear did this,” said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen.
The fact is, there are too many grizzly bears, not enough food and habitat.
When the Yellowstone Grizzly Coordinating Committee met on Oct. 28, 2009, Bill Rudd with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said, “We may be at carrying capacity with the current [grizzly bear] population.”
Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader Chuck Schwartz replied, “That is correct. We are going to have increased conflicts as the [grizzly bear] population grows. Slowly you have to adjust your mortality thresholds and how we deal with problem bears.”
Translation: As the grizzly bear population increases, there will be more conflicts because the bears have run out of habitat and food. They will look for garbage and unnatural foods at campgrounds, cabins, and other places occupied by humans.
The Soda Butte Campground on the Gallatin National Forest is an incredibly dangerous place for innocent people to camp.
1. Mother nature makes the Soda Butte Campground a great place for bears, and a dreadful location for a campground. .The Soda Butte Campground is in a valley surrounded by mountains; it’s a natural travel corridor for bears. The terrain funnels bears to the campground. In addition, the Report states that “in some places within the campground, there are abundant bear foods, including forbs.”
2. Nearby Cooke City and Silvergate have a long history of bear-human conflicts due to improper food storage. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s 2009 annual report for Yellowstone includes a map showing where bear-human conflicts in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have occurred. The report says “The 5 areas where the most conflicts occurred over the last 3 years included: 1) the area encompassing Cooke City, Montana,” etc. (see p.38-40)
3.No enforcement of food storage regulations at the Soda Butte Campground. In Yellowstone National Park, rangers patrol every campground and write tickets for improper food storage. Law enforcement at Soda Butte is sporadic to non-existent. The U.S. Forest Service does not have a staff member stationed at the Soda Butte Campground. The Report noted that in 2010, there was not even a volunteer campground host at Soda Butte.
4. Habituation. As a matter of policy, Yellowstone National Park officials allow grizzly bears to habituate to people–the bears are comfortable with people in close quarters. In 2009, there were 314 old-fashioned bear jams in Yellowstone. Hordes of camera-toting tourists line up along the roads to watch nearby grizzlies that seem indifferent to all the commotion. Grizzlies become habituated to people in Yellowstone Park, then take a short strool to a veritable supermarket for bears at Cooke City and the Soda Butte Campground.
People camped at the Soda Butte Campground are tempting fate. They just don’t know it.