Bear Activity Abundant in Western Montana

Leading up to winter, bears are on the hunt for food and wildlife managers are reminding the public to be 'bear aware'

By Tristan Scott
In this 2018 image, a food-conditioned grizzly bear prompted camping restrictions in Glacier National Park. Courtesy National Park Service

Grizzly and black bears are roaming the Flathead in greater abundance as they prepare to den up for the winter, scouring the valley floor for lower-elevation food sources after exhausting this year’s supply of bulbs and berries.

The bears’ seasonal sate is known as “hyperphagia,” and this season’s early snowfall can lead critters astray from natural food sources. Meanwhile, as the ever-expanding human-wildlife interface continues to overlap, the bears are increasingly running into conflict with people, exasperating wildlife officials who urge residents in bear country to reduce conflicts by taking simple steps, like picking their fruit trees, locking up trash and storing pet and livestock feed indoors.

“This has been an extremely busy year,” Erik Wenum, bear and lion specialist with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said.

The potential for conflict has been underscored by recent management actions involving grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which spans much of Northwest Montana.

Most of the recent reports involve bears seeking food attractants, such as domestic fruit trees, garbage, and other food sources near residences, Wenum said.

To help with domestic fruit, FWP has established a Facebook page called Flathead Fruit Gleaning, where residents can post about trees that need to be picked and others can express their interest in picking up fruit. The goal is to prevent bears from becoming food conditioned by accessing food sources near residences. A food-conditioned animal actively seeks unnatural food rewards, has lost its natural foraging behavior, and can be dangerous.

This fall, wildlife officials reported numerous instances of having to capture and relocate bears, as well as other conflicts. Here is a summary of the agency’s reports.

Sept. 11

FWP bear specialists captured a sub-adult male grizzly bear off East Edgewood Drive in Whitefish after the bruin killed a pig and fed on fruit trees near a private residence.

This was the first time this bear had been captured and involved in a reported conflict near residences. The bear was not observed acting aggressively, and FWP moved it to a remote section of the Flathead National Forest along the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir.

Sept. 26

At 5:30 a.m., a motorist on Montana Highway 40 east of Whitefish struck and killed a female grizzly bear cub. An adult female grizzly bear and another cub were reported by witnesses, but they weren’t involved the accident. FWP officials collected the carcass from the site.

Oct. 13

FWP bear specialists captured a sub-adult male grizzly bear north of U.S. Highway 2 on private property next to the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company property. FWP was attempting to capture a female grizzly bear with a yearling that was feeding from domestic fruit trees and garbage near residences but instead captured the male bear, which was also believed to be eating from garbage in the area. The bears were not observed to be acting aggressively and FWP moved the bear to a remote section of the Flathead National Forest up Dead Horse Creek, in the North Fork Flathead River.

Oct. 13

An FWP bear specialist captured an adult male grizzly bear west of Pendroy on the Rocky Mountain Front after the bear entered an open garage and fed on treated grain. Agricultural producers saw the bear in the garbage and reported it to FWP. The bear was not observed acting aggressively but remained in the garage. FWP captured the bear, which had been previously captured for research but did not have an FWP conflict record. The bear was relocated to the Puzzle Creek drainage of Flathead National Forest after consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. The producer is installing a garage door on one side of the garage and is considering bear deterrence options from FWP for the other entrance. FWP also provided the producer bear spray to carry in case of a surprise encounter, which are the most common cause of grizzly bear attacks.

Oct. 21

FWP bear specialists captured an adult female grizzly bear and male cub on private property off Columbia Falls Stage Road near Columbia Falls. The bears were reportedly tipping over garbage cans at residences near the Flathead River south of town and eating domestic fruit that had fallen into residential yards. The bears were also photographed accessing unsecured garbage on a back porch of a residence. The adult female was previously captured for a research project and is 19 years old. It previously denned in Glacier National Park, and FWP moved the bears to the Logan Creek area in the park after consulting with the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To report grizzly bear activity in the greater Flathead Valley, the public can call FWP bear management specialists at (406) 250-1265.

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