When Dusty Lasseter tells people one of the key things he does in his job is relocate grizzly bears, they typically react in one of two ways.
“Cool or crazy,” he said. “A little bit of both.”
When a call comes in to the Cody regional office of Game and Fish with a tip about a bear prowling the neighborhood, usually it is Lasseter or Luke Ellsbury who go out.
Residents might say a bear is in their backyard, or eating along the road, and ask them to come and fix it.
It’s almost like “Ghostbusters.” Who ya gonna call?
A problem bear is often relocated, whisked from a herd of cattle or an apple orchard, to an isolated area.
Lasseter and Ellsbury, and others, are like a moving company handling unusual cargo.
Bear is trapped. Bear is drugged. Bear wakes up in a new home farther from people or livestock.
Grizzly bears are one Wyoming large carnivore that cannot be hunted. They are protected by the Endangered Species Act and are under the management jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
After 40 years of monitoring population growth, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly was briefly delisted in 2017 and Game and Fish put in place regulations for a very limited hunt.
At the last minute, a federal judge in Missoula relisted the bear.
The issue of bear hunting is the elephant in the room when it comes to Wyoming hunting.
While many see the population of about 750 in the region representing a recovered species, after the court intervention halted the delisting process in 2018, no one can guess what year there may be a hunt.
Relocation is a key program used to avoid dangerous human-animal confrontations and give bears second chances.
Since he has not kept a life list, Lasseter only estimates he has moved 80-100 grizzlies over a 12-year period.
Each case is different, but each case can be risky.
“I’ve done some dumb things,” Lasseter said. “You get a little complacent at times. There’s been occasions when I’ve had a close call.”
That’s a warning coming from the department’s Bear Wise Community Coordinator, who dispenses safety advice to thousands of people each year.
Anyone who spends considerable time in the back country, hiking, biking, hunting, Lasseter said, is likely to encounter a grizzly.
“They’re out at dusk,” he said. “They’re out at dawn. There’s carcasses. We certainly see a higher spike of contact (during hunting season).”
When G&F is contacted, often Ellsbury, Lasseter, or both, head into the field searching for the bear in question.
Sometimes the animal is invading private land and threatening chickens or goats, taking advantage of dog food left on the porch, or attacking livestock, a common problem across Wyoming.
“We’d prefer people’s attractants are stored,” Lasseter said.
Or protected by electrified fencing.
On assignment, officials bring their own attractants along to lure bears.
“We typically bait it with road kill,” Ellsbury said. “Sometimes we go by a grocery store and buy some melons and apples – unless it’s an apple call.”
Bears are shot with tranquilizer darts or collected in a culvert trap that is 3 feet by 3 feet by 8 feet.
In all his time spent in the wild, Ellsbury said, “I’ve never sprayed a bear. I’ve never had to shoot one in self-defense, either. I’ve been charged a few times.”
Ellsbury said people ask if he has good health insurance.
“It’s probably more dangerous than the average job,” he said.