More Grizzlies turning
up 'south of the border'


Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


November 9, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana


by James Jason Jonkel
Wildlife Technician
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Seeley Lake, Ovando, Helmville and Lincoln, MT have "something" in common. This "something" walks on four legs and has silver-tipped hairs. These four mountain towns are adjacent to a large tract of wild country occupied by an expanding grizzly bear populationand in the last two years these grizzlies are spending more time "south of the border."

Lincoln and Seeley Lake already have a history of black bears coming into town for food rewards. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) game wardens and biologists respond to the same complaints every year. A black bear is eating grass on my front lawn. A black bear tore down my bird feeder. A black bear is in my garbage.

FWP responds by reminding landowners of the fact that this is wild country. Take your bird feeders down. Don't feed deer. And don't leave garbage and dog food outside. These sorts of things lure in black bears and other wildlife. "You can't blame the bearsit's like free money." By eliminating food rewards landowners can keep bears from developing bad habits.

In any event, five to ten black bears annually get unintentionally trained to seek out unnatural food sources in these towns and they become overly comfortable around humans. When a bear's behavior becomes "extreme" FWP has no choicetraps are set and black bears are relocated and sometimes destroyed. Most bear problems, however, can be avoided if residents simply "bear-proof" their property.

Now, as many residents already know, a new species of bear has come to town. And all to often this bear's fate is the same as the black bear's!

This summer, in Seeley Lake, a young female grizzly ventured into town in broad daylight and began feeding on garbage, dog food, green grass and "deer blocks." She was tranquilized and relocated to the South Fork of the Flathead River. She continued to exhibit food-conditioned behavior and was captured and shipped to a scientific lab in Washington.

Last spring, in Lincoln, a young male grizzly was destroyed after he took up residence in town. Life was pretty good because Lincoln supplied the young male with plenty of food. He ate garbage, green grass, apples and plums, pet food, birdseed, honey and bees, road-killed deer, cow and horse carcasses and several domestic calves.

Grizzly bears have always been present in the Blackfoot Valley. There are an abundance of natural bear foods in the lower portions of this valley. In spring, summer and fall grizzlies venture into the river bottoms to feed on green vegetation, insects, elk and deer calves, livestock carrion, road-killed big game, choke cherries, service berries, snow berries, rose hips and hawthorn berries.

Certain areas in the Blackfoot are extremely attractive to grizzly bears. The Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area (WMA), the Aunt Molly WMA, the Monture Creek Swamps and the river bottom complex between Sperry Grade and Lincoln are good places to find grizzly bear tracks and sign.

In fact, because of these natural food sources, residents in the upper Blackfoot Drainage can expect to see more grizzly bear activity in upcoming years. This river system drains the southern slopes of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, an area that is also known as the southern end of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). The NCDE is an extremely wild and intact area that has long been a sanctuary for a variety of wildlife, including grizzlies.

Since 1975 the grizzly has been federally managed as a threatened species under the Threatened and Endangered Species Act. In the last 25 years, grizzlies have slowly recovered and the population in and around the Blackfoot Valley is expanding. Now, like black bears, grizzly bears can be tempted to enter residential areas for unnatural foods.

Most of the time the story goes like this: Under the cover of darkness a family group of grizzlies travels across a valley. The mother knows the area but it has changed dramatically. There are new houses everywhere. She takes the cubs along her normal route. The brush has been removed between two new home sites and the female has to skirt the edge of the property. Her babies eat some of the lush green grass. The male cub investigates a bird feeder and the female cub eats a bowl of dog food. The Mother calls to her young and they continue their journey, remembering that these home sites are good areas to find food treats.

As this story becomes more and more common, with humans and bears living in the same country, towns like Seeley Lake and Lincoln will continue to have problems with their bear attractants. Until these attractants are removed or "bear proofed" black bears and grizzly bears will be unintentionally encouraged to eat unnatural foods and become more and more tolerant of human activity.

If you are interested in teaching bears "to keep away and not come and stay" please contact FWP Wildlife Technician James Jason Jonkel at 406-542-5508. I can give you information and advice on how to "bear proof" your residence or business and prevent future bear problems.

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