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Grizzly bear conflicts continue in southwestern Montana

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PHOTO BY NEAL HERBERT / NPS

MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS

One grizzly bear euthanized, others relocated 

BOZEMAN—Bear specialists and game wardens with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks have  responded recently to several separate conflicts involving grizzly bears in southwestern Montana.  

No people were injured in these conflicts. However, one grizzly bear was euthanized, and  several others were relocated.  

Defensive encounter 

On Oct. 14, two hunters were walking along Eldridge Trail south of Taylor Creek in the Madison  Range. They heard brush breaking and saw a grizzly bear charging at them. Both hunters fired  multiple handgun rounds at the bear, and it left without any signs of injury. The hunters were  not injured.  

The bear’s charge was likely the result of a surprise, defensive encounter because of the wind  direction, the bear’s proximity to the hunters and because the female bear was accompanied  by two cubs.  

The next day, FWP staff flew the area extensively and did not find an injured bear. During a  ground search, FWP and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement staff found bear tracks and  

handgun casings from the two hunters, but they did not find blood, hair or any other evidence  the bear was injured.  

This incident is still under investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  

Gardiner bears relocated 

A female grizzly bear and two cubs were recently captured and relocated from Gardiner. 

The bears were first reported to FWP on Oct. 10 after eating from apple trees in town and  grazing on grass and dandelions on the football field at Gardiner High School in the evenings.  Staff from FWP and Yellowstone National Park hazed the bears out of town at night five times  over several days with paintballs, cracker rounds and rubber bullets. The bears eventually  moved to another part of town, where they continued eating apples at night. Over time, the 

bears continued to return and eat apples more often during daylight hours, reducing  opportunities to safely haze the bears due to daytime public safety concerns. 

On the morning of Oct. 17, the bears were reported feeding at apple trees near a school bus  stop, which prevented kids from being able to get on the bus. 

As a preventative measure, FWP trapped all three bears that evening. The bears were in good  health, and there was no evidence they had gained access to unsecured garbage. In  consultation with the USFWS, FWP bear specialists outfitted the sow with a GPS collar and  relocated the bears to a site previously approved by the Montana Fish and Wildlife  Commission. 

Big Sky grizzly euthanized 

An adult female grizzly bear was euthanized on Oct. 21 after several conflicts with people in Big  Sky.  

The female and two cubs frequented homesites in Big Sky for several weeks leading up to the  day they were captured. The bears were also seen at Ophir Elementary School during daylight  and evening hours. Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputies and private landowners made multiple  attempts to haze the bears out of town with vehicles and rubber bullets, but the bears kept  returning to the area.  

At about 11 a.m. on Oct. 19, the bears approached a group of people on private property,  forcing the people to go into a building. A landowner approached the bears in a vehicle, attempting to haze them away, and the female bear charged at them. The bears then left for a  short time and returned to the property again.  

FWP was notified of the encounter and trapped the bears on the property. The 25-year-old sow  was found to have poor body condition, with low fat reserves and heavily worn teeth. In  consultation with the USFWS, FWP euthanized the sow due to human safety concerns; the  bear’s poor health, habituated behavior, and aggressive response to hazing; and property  damage. 

The sow was 25 years old and had been captured previously as a non-conflict bear during  annual population monitoring research. The cubs were relocated to a commission-approved  release site. 

Grizzly bear mortality on Highway 191 

On Oct. 23, an FWP game warden responded to a report of an older male grizzly bear that was struck by a vehicle and killed on U.S. Highway 191 near West Yellowstone.

Be Bear Aware 

Montana is bear country. Grizzly bear populations continue to become denser and more  widespread in Montana, increasing the likelihood that residents and recreationists will  encounter them in more places each year. Unsecured attractants—such as fruit trees, garbage  and bird feeders—can lead to human safety risks and property damage. 

Avoiding conflicts with bears is easier than dealing with conflicts. Here are some precautions to  help residents, recreationists and people who work outdoors avoid negative bear encounters:  

  • Remove fruit on and around fruit trees. 
  • Keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other attractants put away in a secure building. Keep garbage in a secure building until the day it is collected. Certified bear resistant garbage containers are available in many areas. 
  • Never feed wildlife. Bears that become food conditioned lose their natural foraging  behavior and pose threats to human safety. It is illegal to feed bears in Montana. 
  • Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately.  
  • Travel in groups whenever possible and make casual noise, which can help alert bears to  your presence.  
  • Stay away from animal carcasses, which often attract bears.  
  • Follow food storage orders from the applicable land management agency.  
  • If you encounter a bear, never approach it. Leave the area when it is safe to do so.  

Bears are active during the general hunting season into late fall. Hunting in places that have or  may have grizzly bears—which includes areas of Montana west of Billings—requires special  precautions:  

  • Carefully read signs at trailheads and observe area closures that may be in effect. 
  • Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately.  
  • Look for bear sign and be cautious around creeks and areas with limited visibility.
  • Hunt with a group of people. Making localized noise can alert bears to your presence.  
  • Be aware that elk calls and cover scents can attract bears.  
  • Bring the equipment and people needed to help field dress game and remove the meat  from the kill site as soon as possible. 
  • If you need to leave part of the meat in the field during processing, hang it at least 10  feet off the ground, 4 feet from any vertical support, and at least 150 yards from the gut  pile. Leave it where it can be observed from a distance of at least 200 yards.  
  • Upon your return, observe the meat with binoculars. If it has been disturbed or if a bear  is in the area, leave and call FWP. 

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  Management authority for grizzlies rests with the USFWS, working closely in Montana with  FWP, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, Wildlife Services, and Native American tribes. This collaboration happens  through the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.  

For more information and resources on bear safety, visit fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife management/bear. 

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