GREAT FALLS – Bear managers have been the No. 1 killers of grizzlies in northwestern Montana over the past decade.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says “management removals” — the killing of bears, primarily for raiding food or killing cattle on private land — are responsible for 58 of the 179 grizzly bears people have killed since 1999. That represents 32 percent of human-caused grizzly bear deaths.
“That’s not what I got into this work to do,” said Dan Carney, a wildlife biologist for the Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department. “I like bears. I enjoy working around them.”
The bears that Carney and other bear managers occasionally have to kill live in an 8,933-square-mile-area known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, most of which is public land.
A disproportionate share of the management removals occur on 8 percent, or 715 square miles, of the ecosystem that’s privately owned residential or agricultural property, said Chris Servheen, grizzly recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Easy meals — dog food, bird feeders or cattle carcasses — lure bears to residential homes or ranches in that area. If the grizzlies keep going back, bear managers are forced to eliminate them.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Jamie Jonkel, a Missoula-based bear manager for Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. “If you don’t want the bears coming into your property, you have to get rid of the attractants that draw them in.”
A vast majority of the bears are killed for eating food on residential property as opposed to causing problems on ranches, which Servheen said are “pretty safe for grizzlies.”
Illegal shootings were responsible for 34 grizzly deaths since 1999, making it the second leading human-caused method of grizzly mortality. Twelve of the shootings were cases of mistaken identity by black bear hunters.
Since 1999, just one human-caused grizzly bear death has been reported in Glacier National Park, Servheen said. That’s noteworthy because the park draws more than 2 million visitors a year, and is home to one-third to a half of the grizzlies in northwestern Montana.
“It’s still the safest place to be if you’re a grizzly bear,” Servheen said.
2008 has been a relatively good year for grizzlies, with nine human-caused deaths reported, including one classified as a management removal. In 2007, there were 26 human-caused grizzly deaths in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.