The decoy grizzly bear, fully assembled and placed in the woods.
Grizzly Bear Decoy
Makes Montana Debut
in Seeley Lake
June 8, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
Pat O'Herren, left, director of Brown Bear Resources formulated the decoy plan to educate people on differences between grizzlies and black bears. He visits here with Bill Koppen as they wait in the woods to see reactions to the decoy.
Story & Photos By Donna Love
A realistic looking grizzly bear decoy made its first appearance in Montana in the lower Seeley-Swan Valley this past week. The fake bear, the color of Winnie the Pooh, made by Custom Robotic Wildlife of Wisconsin and purchased by Brown Bear Resources Inc. of Missoula is the latest in a long line of realistic decoys to be used by Region Two of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It was transported to the Seeley area by Game Warden, Bill Koppen who will use the bear decoy off and on to help educate the public about grizzly bears.
A grizzly bear recently caused a stir in Seeley Lake when a 165-pound, two and a half year old female was darted and captured without incident near the Seeley Swan Health Center on May 15. The young bear had probably been kicked "out of the nest" by her mother and was trying to make it on her own for the first time. She and her mother had both been captured and tagged before, but had never caused any problems in town. The immature grizzly was moved to the South Fork of the Flathead.
Koppen feels this situation is destined to become a more common occurrence in Seeley as the grizzly population in the wilderness increases. He is concerned not only about the welfare of the citizens of Seeley, but the welfare of the bear as well.
In an effort to educate the public about grizzlies, provide safety for the bears during black bear hunting season and discourage poaching Koppen brought the lifelike silvertip decoy to the Seeley-Swan Valley for the first time on Sunday, May 28 for a "road test."
The lightweight, authentic looking decoy stands in an elert-walking pose. For its maiden voyage the decoy was placed along a gravel Forest Service road in an area closed to black bear hunting. The decoy was placed a fair distance from the road in a position that would usually only attract hunters looking for bears. If it were placed closer to the road people passing by would readily see it.
Koppen and Barry Cummings, also of FWP, hid in the brush on the opposite side of the road to watch the reaction of passing vehicles with Pat O'Herren, the Director of Brown Bear Resources and the bear's creator.
O'Herren, formulated the idea for the decoy while looking for ways to provide safety for grizzly bears and humans while protecting Montana's hunting heritage. His conservation group, Brown Bear Resources, Inc., centered in downtown Missoula formed in 1989 to help reduce conflicts between humans and wildlife, especially in grizzly bear habitat. O'Herren pointed out that as the population of humans in rural areas rise, the chances for conflict between humans and neighborhood wildlife escalate dramatically. His group designed and purchased the bear with funding made available by sales in Brown Bear's Gift Shop. Its use is managed by Region 2 of FWP who plans to use the bear as a deterrent to potential poachers and to help educate hunters as to the difference between black bears and grizzlies. This year alone six grizzly bears have been illegally killed in western Montana. Three of those were from hunters that mistook the bears for black bears and three others are under investigation.
Five vehicles drove by the bear during the road test. The first two traveled quickly past the bear, not even noticing it. Three other vehicles saw the bear and stopped. Two moved on after turning around to get a closer look. Passengers in another vehicle saw the bear, got out and threw rocks at it in an attempt to get a better look at it. Koppen and Cummings used the opportunity to instruct the vehicle's occupants as to the proper way to deal with grizzly bears. Had this been a real grizzly it could have charged the vehicle's occupants in an act of self-defense.
Even with the small amount of traffic O'Herren thought the road test was valuable. "People traveling past the decoy learned that they had best be careful when sighting a grizzly," O'Herren said. He believes that with a small percentage of poachers and less than careful hunters, wildlife management by the state is threatened.
Tim Love, District Ranger for the Seeley Lake Ranger District on the Lolo National Forest was also along to assist with the decoy. He feels the decoy will be a useful educational tool. "It will be a helpful way to prevent mistaken and/or illegal removal of grizzly bears," Love said.
It is hoped that just knowing that FWP's has a new bear in the forests will make all hunters and potential poachers act more responsibly before pulling the trigger, but Koppen explained that the imitation is not being used to trick anyone. It is being used to help inexperienced or irresponsible hunters to not make an irrevocable mistake. The error of shooting a grizzly bear is expensive and doesn't help anyone, hunters, black bears, or grizzly bears.
Koppen explained, "We are using the bear to work some problems in the area. We have some people shooting the second they see a bear they don't even wait to see if it's a sow with cubs, which is illegal to shoot, or if its even a Grizzly or a Black. They are just blasting."
Koppen had a few words of advice for black bear hunters. "Just slow down and observe any bear you see for quite awhile before deciding what to do," he said and added that black bear hunters need to educate themselves on the differences between black bears and grizzly bears before they hunt. If hunters stumble upon the decoy he asks that they just move on and keep the operation to themselves for the rest of the day. "You can tell anyone you want tomorrow," Koppen said. That way the decoy can be used effectively for the remainder of the day.
We will be seeing more of this grizzly bear as the summer advances not only in hunting situations, but also in educational programs in schools, campgrounds and group meetings. So if you happen upon this "bear scare" and it makes your heart skip a beat, be thankful it wasn't a real griz.