Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials killed a grizzly bear along the Marias River on Monday. They’d been tracking the bear since it was shot by an area resident on July 26.
I talked about the incident with Wesley Sarmento, a bear management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks that helped track the grizzly.
Nick Mott: Can you tell me about this particular bear and this situation?
Wesley Sarmento: This bear was originally caught last year in October, it was eating applies in a residence’s backyard outside the city of Choteau. That bear was then relocated to National Forest Land, specifically Pike Creek, which is behind East Glacier. This summer that bear made its way down the rivers and it visited a dozen houses this spring and summer, searching for human food. But then this bear again visited residences along the Marias River and a renter shot the bear. And the bear obviously didn’t die. It retreated down the river. And it was a collared bear, and so we could tell by its movements that it was severely injured.
NM: If the bear was collared, to what extent are you able to see its location through that collar data?
WS: We’re able to download its location every two days. And its locations were taken every 3.5 hours.
NM: I see, so you see how it moves every 3 and a half hours, but only two days later?
WS: Yep, exactly. And its movements after it was shot were constrained to a few hundred yards, so it wouldn’t leave a very small patch of brush and berries. We would set out traps to capture it because we wanted a veterinarian to examine it to see how it was doing. But due to the fact that this bear had had this negative experience by being shot and it had already been trapped before, it was what we call “trap shy.” SO as soon as we put a trap out the bear would leave the patch and it would move a half mile to a mile downstream to another thick path. And so the decision was made between our Region 4 supervisor and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that due to the fact that the bear could not be caught, the severity of its injury and our concern for human safety, that it should be removed.
NM: What happens to a bear after its been euthanized?
WS: Since this bear is part of a criminal investigation, that bear is then transported to our Fish, Wildlife and Parks health lab in Bozeman. And we have a veterinarian on staff there that will do a necropsy on the bear. So she’ll skin it, examine the gunshot and determine what caliber of bullet, and try to determine how the gunshot occurred, and so forth. That’ll be used as evidence, essentially.
NM: You mention criminal investigation, what sort of investigation is under way, and what penalties could this person face?
WS: Because grizzly bears are a federally protected species, you can’t just shoot a grizzly bear. So there’s an investigation trying to determine whether this was an illegal shooting. The fines can be thousands of dollars for killing a threatened or endangered species. It’s a joint investigation between the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is a federal agency, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
NM: Were you there yesterday when the bear was tracked and killed?
WS: I was there.
NM: How was that experience for you?
WS: Oh, it was a profound experience. IT was a high-intensity experience. I’m a hunter and I hunt animals. It’s never seeing an animal die. But sometimes it just needs to happen for the sake of the animal and the population as a whole and human safety.
NM: How do you feel after a situation like this, when a bear has to be put down?
WS: I feel like it would be nice to prevent this sort of situation from happening in the future. So people need to be sure that they’re picking up their apples when they fall on the ground if the apples are ripe. They should pick the apples from the apple trees so bears can’t get them and then learn to associate food with residences. Also pet food should be kept inside and any livestock feed, chicken feed, should be kept inside unless it’s being used. This whole situation could have been avoided if this bear had never learned to get food from people.
Wesley Sarmento is the bear management specialist for Region 4 of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. I spoke with him on Tuesday afternoon.