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Bumper crop of pine nuts for grizzlies

JACKSON, Wyo. — A bumper crop of pine nuts in northwestern Wyoming this fall could reduce grizzly bear-human conflicts by keeping the bears at higher elevations, wildlife officials say.

Whitebark pine cone production was up this year in the greater Yellowstone area, with an average of 28 cones per tree, biologist Mark Haroldson said.

"Bears make nearly exclusive fall use of whitebark pine seed as food during years in which mean cone production exceeds 20 cones per tree," he said.

That is good for grizzlies, and not just because their stomachs will be full for hibernation this winter.

Mark Bruscino, a bear management officer for the Game and Fish Department, said human-grizzly conflicts tend to fall when pine nut crops are good, mainly because the nuts draw bears away from cattle and more populated lower elevations.

"We do want to advise hunters that those bears are at mid- to high-elevation conifer stands and to be prepared," Bruscino said. "If they're seeing lots of bear sign, they probably ought to vacate the area."