A major subject at last week’s NCDE meeting was the increased conflicts between humans and grizzlies as the bears continue to spread out into their original range . . .
Once teetering on the brink of extirpation, there are now more than 1,000 grizzly bears roaming more than 8 million acres of land known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), which stretches from the top of Glacier National Park to Missoula.
But the booming bear population also comes with a new challenge: what to do when those grizzlies stray beyond the core of the NCDE, an area that includes Glacier National Park, parts of the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations, five national forests and large swaths of state and private land. That challenge was the main focus for wildlife and land managers gathered in Missoula for the bi-annual NCDE meeting on Nov. 20.
During the daylong meeting, state and federal wildlife managers updated attendees on the regional grizzly bear population. This year, there have been 50 confirmed grizzly bear deaths or removals from the NCDE. Three of those mortalities (a term used by wildlife biologists whenever a bear is removed from the NCDE population, even if it’s going to a zoo) occurred recently in the Flathead Valley. On Nov. 8, a young male grizzly bear was struck and killed by a train near Columbia Falls. And in the last month, two adult females died near the Hungry Horse Reservoir. Both of those bears died of natural causes.
The Missoulian has an interesting story about how a farmer in the Mission Valley is dealing with bear conflicts . . .
Standing in a hollowed-out section in the middle of his 80-acre cornfield, Greg Schock bends over and picks up one of dozens of corn cobs scattered about. It’s been picked clean of every kernel.
On the dark black ground just barely moistened by Thursday night’s welcome rain, there are grizzly bear tracks and fresh scat dotted with kernels of corn.
From where he’s standing, the longtime Mission Valley dairyman’s view past the edge of the clearing is obscured by the thick rows of corn that will sometime soon become the silage that his cows will depend on to eat through the winter months.
Issues arise as grizzly bears spread out into their historic range in the high plains . . .
If and when they lose federal protection, grizzly bears on the Rocky Mountain Front face an uncertain future.
The questions puzzling members at the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s summer meeting went far beyond whether to have a hunting season. Although grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem remain two or three years away from potential removal from Endangered Species Act oversight, residents in and around Choteau made it clear the bears’ presence was already an issue.
“We’re having more and more issues with grizzlies moving into territory they haven’t occupied for quite some time,” Valier rancher Gene Curry said during a panel discussion on future bear management. “I grew up west of Browning, and grizzly bears never entered anyone’s mind. I used to be on my hands and knees crawling through brush to get to fishing holes. Now when my grandchildren go out to catch their horses in the morning, they have to think about grizzly bears. I had five of them in the yard one morning.”
As the grizzly bear population rises, the bears spread into more of their historic range . . .
A probable grizzly bear sighting just over the edge of the Missoula Valley highlights the theme of this week’s Interagency Grizzly Committee meeting in Choteau: People get ready.
“We’ve done such a good job with the recovery, the public needs to understand what’s happening and how they can be safe in where they live,” IGBC spokesman Gregg Losinski said on Friday. “There are challenges because we’re not doing recovery anymore — we’re doing management.”
Since getting federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, grizzly bears now number nearly 2,000 in the continental United States. Most of those are concentrated in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem around Yellowstone National Park (about 700 grizzlies) and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem between Missoula and Glacier National Park (about 1,000 grizzlies).
Here’s the official press release regarding those two delinquent grizzlies that were captured near Whitefish and released near Frozen Lake a few days ago . . .
A young grizzly showed up in Whitefish on August 9 on Dakota Avenue in a residential area. Grizzly Bear Management Specialist Tim Manley set a trap in the late morning near the cherry tree the bear was observed in. The bear was seen several more times that evening near Wildwood Condos and the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.
The bear was captured in the trap on August 10 about noon. It was an unmarked, 2-year old male that weighed 158 pounds with no previous management history. The bear was released on August 11 near Frozen Lake on the BC border.
On the afternoon of August 9, a trap was set for a grizzly bear south of Blanchard Lake. The bear had gotten into dog food and garbage. That bear was captured early in the morning of August 10. It is an unmarked, 4-year old male, weighing 245 pounds with no previous management history. This bear was also released near Frozen Lake.
Both bears were fitted with GPS satellite collars.
Manley says that some grizzly bears are staying in the valley bottom to feed on serviceberry and hawthorn berries. Fruit trees also have apples, plums, and pears that are ripening up right now. Residents should pick their fruit as soon as possible and also make sure other attractants such as garbage, pet food, and bird feeders are not available.
Here’s a pretty good article by Rob Chaney of the Missoulian on the issue of ‘high speed recreation’ in backcountry areas. Despite the title, it’s not just about mountain bikes . . .
Two weeks before a Kalispell man died in a bicycle collision with a bear near Glacier National Park, an ultra-marathon runner in New Mexico was mauled by a bear she encountered on a New Mexico trail…
On Thursday, an estimated 2,500 people paid their respects to Brad Treat at a memorial service in Kalispell’s Legends Stadium on Thursday. The 38-year-old Forest Service law enforcement officer died on June 29 after colliding with a bear on his bicycle while pedaling on a trail near Halfmoon Lake.
That same Thursday in Missoula, grizzly bear advocates were warning U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Wayne Kasworm about the dangers posed by high-speed recreation in bear habitat.
With a mild end of the winter, some of Montana’s hibernating black bears and grizzly bears are beginning to stir.
Adult males usually emerge first from winter dens in mid-March, but some bears have been sighted in Yellowstone National Park. When bears emerge from their dens they are physically depleted and food is a priority.
Bears are often tempted to go where raccoons and domestic dogs are getting into garbage. If these animals are already causing problems nearby, consider it an early warning that food attractants are available and need to be removed.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ bear experts stress that conflict prevention steps can greatly reduce the chances of attracting black and grizzly bears.
FWP recommends bear resistant bins in communities and on ranches; electric fence systems to protect bee yards and sheep bedding grounds; random redistribution of livestock carcasses each spring; and educational programs in schools and communities.
FWP’s Be Bear Aware website at fwp.mt.gov is an easy way for homeowners and landowners to assess what they need to do now to prevent bear conflicts. Go there for tips and tools on obtaining and using bear spray, safe camping and hiking, access to bear resistant products and a guide to other items that attract bears to a property.
Here’s an update on the current state of bear-proof storage. I particularly like the bit about “Kobuk the Destroyer” . . .
An unexpected problem has developed in the world of bear-resistant food storage testing: The grizzly bears responsible for tearing containers to shreds are getting bored or depressed.
“With some of these containers, the bears are no longer interested in testing,” U.S. Forest Service national carnivore program leader Scott Jackson told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting in Missoula on Tuesday. “For the metal cases that are bolted to the ground that they can’t tip over and knock around, that’s becoming more and more of a problem. They just lick the bait off the outside and leave them alone. The manufacturers are kind of left in limbo.”
In a way, that’s a good problem to have. Bear-resistant food storage rules apply to more and more places in the woods as both grizzlies and black bears add human food to their foraging plans. Next summer, floaters who win a coveted permit to spend a week on Montana’s Smith River must pack their steaks and beer in bear-resistant containers.