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FWP gearing up for
'Summer with Grizzlies'

March 9, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson,
Wildlife Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
by Mike Thompson


If you've noticed that the bear tracks in your favorite haunts have been getting larger, and their claws longer, you've got a friend.

Call Jamie Jonkel.

Because it's not that the bears in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys are growing bigger. It's just that more of them are growing up to be grizzly bears.

And, it's important not to offend them.

That's where Jamie comes in. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has expanded Jamie's duties to include the new "Living with Bears and Lions" Project for the Blackfoot Valley. Jamie is the Martha Stewart of human-bear etiquette, and can really help people avoid making the wrong first impression.

Which gives new meaning to the cliché, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

While listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, grizzly bear populations are not subject to control in the same manner that FWP controls elk, deer and lion numbers with hunting. Under the Act, the goal is to repopulate the designated "recovery area" with a sustainable number of grizzly bears and return the species to State control. Although the Blackfoot valley-bottom is outside this designated "recovery area," it is well within the home ranges of apparently increasing numbers of bears that occupy the southern edge of the Northern Continental Divide recovery area for at least part of the year.

FWP's role in the direct management of grizzly bear populations may be limited under the Endangered Species Act, but FWP's Missoula office (Region 2) has decided there are other important public services that your State wildlife agency should provide as grizzly bear populations expand.

Here's some of what Jamie's been doing lately to launch the "Living with Bears and Lions" Project this spring.

Jamie will be working with Bill Thomas (Region 2 Information Officer) to incorporate instruction on safety in bear country into the Hunter Education Program in Region 2. This spring, Jamie will help teach youngsters and instructors how to tell the difference between black and grizzly bears, how to sex bears from a distance, how to retrieve downed game in grizzly country and how to hike, camp and live in bear and lion country.

A new bundle of joy will arrive in the Jonkel household later this year, in the form of a Karelian Bear Dog puppy. Jamie will be working with Carrie Hunt of Wind River Karelian Bear Dogs and Tim Manley (FWP's bear specialist in Region 1) to give his dog the training it will need to teach targeted grizzly bears that hanging around humans is a real drag. Hopefully, this will give FWP an important tool to prevent human-bear incidents in areas of high human use. Brown Bear Resources and Counter Assault have agreed to help with the costs of acquiring and training the dog.

In January, with the help of volunteer Rochelle Owen, Jamie built twelve red-pepper spraying devices that can be set at garbage cans, dumpsters, bird feeders and meat poles. Field tests will begin up the Blackfoot this spring, using remote cameras to document the results. (I'm looking forward to spicing up my boring slide shows with a few photos of Cajun Grizzly.)

Also, Rochelle is experimenting with a cattle panel exclosure that can be electrified with a Solar-Shock energizer to protect fruit trees, dumpsters, garbage cans and the like.

FWP purchased five radio collars and five ear transmitters in anticipation of the need to monitor the movements of selected Blackfoot bears in the coming months. Jamie's been readying his snare trapping, culvert trapping, drugging, darting, and handling kits for use in the field. Jamie and Barry Cummings (Region 2) have also been brainstorming a design for a lightweight culvert trap that can be used to capture and handle bear family groups. The trap would have two holding compartments that could be separated by an optional internal sliding door.

And, Jamie is already working with a number of landowners, agency officials, the business community and local schools to help them find ways to keep bears at arm's length. Usually, this boils down to starving them out, by removing foods such as garbage, dog food and other attractants. Some problems are bigger or more complicated than others, which is why we're lucky to have Jamie on board to help people work through these. Just give him a call at FWP's Missoula office (542-5508).

Because with some specialized education, we can exercise more control over whether grizzly bears will come to our yards, our dumpsters, our developed campgrounds and our backcountry camps.

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