Thanks to Tristan Scott for shining a spotlight on continuing train-caused grizzly bear mortalities (Flathead Beacon, Oct. 4, 2023). The late Dr. Charles Jonkel first raised the alarm in the 1980s when he learned that grain spills were attracting grizzlies that were subsequently killed on the tracks. In the early ‘90s I represented Glacier National Park on a working group that resulted in the establishment of the Great Northern Environmental Stewardship Area (GNESA), with the goal of reducing the risk to grizzlies and other wildlife. BNSF provided funding for a state bear management position, and other mitigation measures. There seemed to be progress with the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). So, I was shocked and disappointed to learn there has been little recent progress, and that BNSF has not committed to funding the measures identified over 20 years ago. The HCP is long overdue, and BNSF needs to make a permanent funding commitment to mitigate the impacts from train traffic. Some have argued that BNSF is foot-dragging until the grizzly is delisted and protective provisions are no longer required. Chuck Jonkel used to speak about the million-dollar grizzly, that each bear was worth that much to the state (in tourism revenue and iconic status). Even with an expanded population since the 1980s, the per bear value is probably well more than a million today. Regardless of ESA protections, grizzly bears are a significant natural, cultural and spiritual resource, part of our identity as Montanans. The public must demand accountability by BNSF and a commitment to minimize mortality and the management of a healthy and sustainable population of grizzly bears and other wildlife.
This well-researched article by Rob Chaney of the Missoulian uses bear roadkill along US93 as a starting point to make a broader examination of grizzly mortality . . .
The dictionary defines “mortality” as both death and loss. For grizzly bears along the Northern Continental Divide, both definitions came into play last month when the ecosystem recorded five grizzly mortalities, although only four bears died. And because two of the deaths were adult females of breeding age, the loss could have longer term consequences.
On July 24, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks workers found a dead sow grizzly near the southern end of Hungry Horse Reservoir in the Spotted Bear Ranger District. The 16-year-old female had a radio collar that was sending out a mortality signal, indicating it had stopped moving. The carcass was too decomposed to immediately reveal the cause of death.
Three days later, the driver of a car on Highway 93 ran into a sow grizzly and two of her cubs about three miles south of Ronan. The bear family apparently came out of the barrow pit and tried to cross the highway together about 11 p.m. All three bears died at the scene. The driver and one passenger were injured and the car had to be towed away.
Here’s a good summary from the Hungry Horse News of the latest grizzly bear mortality and population figures . . .
Recorded grizzly bear mortality in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in 2016 was the same the year before, with 22 total bears killed, primarily by human means.
Removal by wildlife biologists due to human conflicts was the leading cause of death, at nine. One bear, a male, was removed as part of an augmentation program to move grizzly bears from the NCDE to the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.
Of the 22 deaths in 2016, 12 were females. Two were unknown sex. Two bears were poached and two were killed by property owners illegally. Three were hit by cars and two deaths were determined to be natural causes, one was accidentally poisoned and one was shot by a hunter who mistook it for a black bear.
Removal of Yellowstone area grizzlies from the Endangered Species List is by no means a done deal . . .
Federal officials are delaying their decision on whether to lift protections for more than 700 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park and allow hunting, amid opposition from dozens of American Indian tribes and conservation groups.
Officials had planned to finalize the proposal to turn jurisdiction on grizzlies over to state officials in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by the end of 2016.
But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Regional Director Michael Thabault said it could take the agency another six months to finish reviewing 650,000 public comments that have poured in on the proposal.
There were fewer grizzly bear deaths last year in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem . . .
On the heels of the federal government’s proposal to delist the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone National Park area, this year’s annual report on Glacier National Park and the surrounding region shows the population continuing to hit its recovery targets.
Grizzlies in the lower 48 states were listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1975, after their historic range and population plummeted over decades of over-harvesting and habitat loss.
The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem boasts the highest number of great bears among the five geographically distinct populations in the Northwest. It covers more than 5.7 million acres in Northwest Montana and includes Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and surrounding lands.
Documented mortalities in the Northern Continental population, now estimated at 982 individuals, dropped substantially in 2015 from the two preceding years. That’s something of a return to normal, according to Cecily Costello, a research wildlife biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks who was one of the lead authors on the annual report.
Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News checks in with a year-end grizzly bear status report . . .
This was a tough year to be a grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The region saw 25 known grizzly bear deaths by humans, and the No. 1 cause of death was illegal kills.
All told, nine grizzly bears were killed illegally in 2013. Bear managers killed eight problem bears, two were killed by cars, two were killed by trains, one was killed in self defense, and the cause of death for two is unknown.
One bear was moved to the Cabinet Mountains as part of an augmentation program designed to boost bear numbers there. Because it was removed from the NCDE, it’s listed as a mortality, said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The oldest radio-collared bear in the world died recently . . .
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported last week that a black bear they had been tracking since 1981 died in the wild at 39 1/2 years of age.
Bear No. 56 was found Aug. 21 in the Chippewa National Forest. She was radio-collared in July 1981 when she was seven years old. At the time, the black bear was accompanied by three female cubs. From 1981 through 1995, Bear No. 56 had eight litters of cubs and successfully raised 21 of 22 cubs to 18 months of age.
Bear No. 56 outlived all of the 360 black bears that MDNR researchers radio-collared in 1981 by 19 years.
It could just be statistical anomaly, but there have been 16 grizzly bear deaths in the Yellowstone region this summer. Most are natural losses, but they are much higher than normal . . .
Bear biologists are refraining from assigning a single reason for a two-fold increase in the rate of natural grizzly bear deaths in the Yellowstone National Park region.
Ten of the 16 grizzlies that have met their ends this summer have died of natural causes, according to data from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
Historically, humans are to blame for more than 75 percent of the bear deaths in the first half of the summer. While the rate is just 37 percent this year, it is derived from a small sample size, and biologists aren’t jumping to any conclusions.