Wildlife managers are reporting an increase in grizzly bear activity and conflicts across Northwest Montana as the winter denning season approaches.
Between 20 and 30 grizzlies were involved in conflicts throughout the region in recent weeks, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Northwest Montana has the largest population of grizzlies in the continental U.S. with over 1,000.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson John Fraley said activity tends to pick up in autumn as both black and grizzly bears search for larger amounts of food in order to survive the winter in their dens. Female grizzly bears with young are especially in need of additional food as they nurse their cubs and need the extra calories.
Activity tends to continue until bears enter dens during November. Last week Glacier National Park announced that St. Mary Campground had been open to only hard-sided camping since late last month because of bear activity. This week tribal officials also warned of increased activity in the Mission Valley.
FWP officials are reminding residents to remove food attractants and to take preventative measures to avoid conflicts with bears during this time of heightened activity. Residents should contact FWP if they have a bear conflict or need information or assistance on securing attractants.
The agency issued a breakdown of recent conflicts:
Near Eureka, at least one young grizzly bear was observed eating apples and walking through residential yards. Traps were set for that bear, but it hasn’t been captured yet, according to FWP.
West of Fortine, landowners buried a dead horse and noticed something had dug it up. They put up a trail camera and three different grizzly bears were photographed. One of the grizzly bears was wearing a radio collar that isn’t functioning properly. In an attempt to capture that bear and change the collar, two culvert traps were set. The horse was reburied and an electric fence was installed around the site along with remote cameras.
On Sept. 6, an unmarked, young adult male grizzly bear visited the site and was captured. This male was radio-collared and translocated into the Whitefish Range. The radio-collared grizzly did not return to the trap site and the traps were pulled.
During that same week, a grizzly bear was breaking branches on fruit trees west of Lake Blaine. A temporary electric fence was installed and a culvert trap was set. The male grizzly bear returned but was not captured. The electric fence was effective in preventing any additional damage to the trees and the trap was removed.
Right after Labor Day, an adult male grizzly bear was captured near Coram after killing chickens and eating apples. The male grizzly — weighing 473 pounds and estimated to be 12-to-14 years old — had never been captured. He was radio-collared and translocated to the Puzzle Creek drainage south of Marias Pass. The electric fence on that chicken coop has been upgraded to be more effective in deterring bears.
On Sept. 9, a large male grizzly broke into a chicken coop near Ferndale. Electric fencing was put up to protect the remaining chickens. A culvert trap was set. The male grizzly returned and it did not kill any more chickens, but it didn’t enter the culvert trap. Two days later, an unmarked adult female grizzly with a cub of the year was captured. The cub was captured the next night and both bears were translocated to the Sullivan Creek drainage.
The trap was reset for the adult male, and the next night a radio-collared female grizzly with two cubs of the year was captured at the site. An attempt was made to capture both of the cubs but was unsuccessful. To avoid separating the female and cubs, with the permission of the residents, the adult female was released onsite during the night of Sept. 17.
On Sept. 16, a photo was taken by a landowner of a female grizzly bear with three cubs of the year south of Ferndale. The next day FWP bear managers contacted residents in the area about the family group. The bears had not caused any conflicts, but residents with fruit trees and poultry were advised to pick their fruit and make sure the electric fencing around their poultry was functioning properly.
In the North Fork of the Flathead, north of Polebridge, a female grizzly bear with a yearling killed some chickens and has gotten access to chicken feed and grain. Bear managers are working with local residents to secure attractants have installed electric fencing.
In the Swan Valley, a subadult female grizzly bear was hit and killed by a vehicle along the Swan Highway on Sept. 12 near the Condon Work Center. There had been reports of a grizzly bear feeding on road-killed deer just south of that area in previous weeks.