Conserving Grizzly Bears Takes Self-Responsibility

Our behaviors and choices all play in to the larger picture that is the future of grizzly bears in Montana

By Jessianne Castle

Randy Newberg doesn’t carry a sidearm. Clocking some 100 days every year exploring the unbound – and often bear-laden – pockets of the American landscape, Newberg says when it comes to a bear attack, he’d leave his trust in an aerosol rather than a piece of lead.

It’s a personal decision, one that is the right of each individual who steps foot in the woods, but for Newberg, carrying bear spray is a no-brainer.

Newberg is a hunter who calls Bozeman his home. He is the producer of two popular TV shows, “Fresh Tracks” and “On Your Own Adventures,” as well as the Hunt Talk Podcast, where he advocates for sportsmen and public land access.

The first time Newberg encountered a grizzly bear at close range, he says drawing a sidearm, aiming, and then placing an accurate shot would have been near impossible. He was on an archery elk hunt in Southwest Montana, full of anticipation after spotting a herd of cow elk. As he crested a small hill, he came head-on upon a boar grizzly, maybe 12 yards away. Luckily, the boar turned and ran away.

Carrying bear spray is one of a handful of behaviors that have become customary for Newberg as he ventures into areas that are home to grizzly bears. Newberg chooses to take these precautions out of a sense of self-responsibility for the conservation of grizzly bears and he hopes other people who find themselves in bear country will consider taking proactive steps as well.

Our behaviors and choices all play in to the larger picture that is the future of grizzly bears in Montana. And a future that is bright for both grizzly bears and people depends on the actions of local communities, businesses, nonprofits and individuals.

“I’m really proud that Montana is one of the places that grizzly bears have always been. It’s an example of the conservation ethic in Montana,” Newberg says.

The essential role of stakeholders is emphasized in the work of the Montana Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council and its recommendations for how wildlife officials should manage bears. These recommendations, released on Sept. 8, will provide a starting point for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as the agency drafts a new statewide grizzly bear management plan that will address grizzly bears as an endangered species and their management after delisting.

FWP Director Martha Williams says this statewide approach is an important step in continued grizzly bear conservation at a time when bears are beginning to expand into areas outside the original recovery areas.

“Regardless of whether the grizzly bear is listed and covered by the Endangered Species Act or not, we all have a responsibility to understand what is needed to help people and bears and take actions to help both,” she says. “We at Montana FWP recognize that a robust public engagement process helps inform a thoughtful approach to grizzly bear management. It does not replace science, as science informs and serves as a critical foundation to our actions. Yet, much of grizzly bear recovery centers on conflict prevention, conflict reduction, and information, education and outreach. Those require working with people and communities.”

To view the council’s recommendations visit fwp.mt.gov/gbac. To learn more about Randy Newberg’s approach to elk hunting in grizzly country, or to learn more about the Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council, visit https://grizzlybearcollective.com/living-with-bears/building_solutions/.

Jessianne Castle is a freelance writer, range rider and founder of the Grizzly Bear Collective. She lives in Marion.