Bear With Me

By Beacon Staff

With this historic election, I can’t help thinking back to Martin Luther King’s epic and wonderful “I Have A Dream” speech, where he declared his hope that his kids would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That’s a grand ideal, and I voted accordingly. I’m disappointed that so many of my fellow Americans didn’t. More later, I guess.

For now, bear with me and several worthy items that got lost in the election screaming. Remember earlier this year when I wrote about wolf genetic exchange and how biologists shuffle other species all the time?

Remember the sow grizzly the Feds picked out of the Whitefish range near Stryker and plunked into the Cabinets in hopes she’d get lucky? Well, our sweet young thing was killed by a train down on the Clark Fork – no word on whether she’d been bred.

The same week in October, another bear got nailed by a train west of Noxon. Furthermore, a rotted griz carcass was found on lower Fishtrap Creek in the lower Thompson basin about 18 miles in from Highway 200.

In Wyoming this year, in the Yellowstone area where bears were finally de-listed from the Endangered Species Act, federal researchers are saying 42 grizzlies have died this year, 17 killed by hunters, twelve others by other “human causes” including killing problem bears.

The Feds are “warning” that this year’s toll has met a “threshold” for boar bears, and is one short for sows. Cross the line three years in a row, and there is a “review” as to whether the species should be re-listed.

That of course brought the usual howling from bear “advocates” such as Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who riffed on a “pileup of dead bears” that is “very, very disturbing and should give us all pause.”

OK, here’s a pause: The Yellowstone population is still growing. According to Cory Hatch of the Jackson Hole Daily, bears are up “from 571 bears last year to 596 bears. Researchers made the estimate based on 84 new cubs observed with 44 females.”

And let’s not forget the five-year DNA study just finished around Glacier that has 765 bears recorded, three times the estimate at the time of listing in 1975.

While my files aren’t perfect, and neither is Google, the human toll has been what, about four hunters mangled so far this year in Montana? A couple of joggers in Alaska? Oh, that’s not disturbing at all, is it?

Let’s pause and ponder what happened to our Cabinet sweetie. She was released in late July, somewhere in the mountains. She had a GPS collar on, so accurate that the last data pinpointed her on the tracks. Biologists have a record of exactly where she went, when and how fast – and boy would I love to see that track.

When she was killed, she was on the edge of known occupied bear habitat. Are there grizzlies south of the Clark Fork, in the Taylor Peak/Thompson Pass part of the Bitterroots? Was she trying to cross? What about the other bear hit by a train? Where was it headed?

The mystery bear at Fishtrap isn’t fitting the mold, either. I have some buddies who just got done logging about six miles north of where that bear was found. There are summer cabins nearby, a campground, and the entire landscape has lots of roads, a fair number of which are open to public use. The vast majority of that country is working forest … yet bears are using this habitat. Why?

Is it because the more-desirable, ecologically-correct, pristine, locked-away ground is jammed full of too many bears? Is it because bears use what works for them, and managed habitats actually work fine? Or a combination of both?

I have lots more questions, like about the “dinner bell” phenomenon that seems to get more obvious every year. But I would settle for honest answers to those I just asked.