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Rocky Mountain Front Grizzly Conflicts Hit Record Numbers In 2017

Grizzly bear.
Flickr user Nathan Rupert
Grizzly bear.

2017 was a record year for grizzly bear conflicts and grizzly bear deaths along the Rocky Mountain Front.

CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this story gave the number of human conflicts with grizzlies on the Rocky Mountain Front south of the Blackfeet reservation incorrectly as 30. The correct number is 46 confirmed conflicts for 2016. I regret the error.

Mike Madel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' bear management biologist for the Front gave an update at the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee fall meeting Wednesday in Missoula. He said that on the Front outside the Blackfeet reservation, there were 46 human-grizzly conflicts last year, and that 12 grizzlies died or were killed.

"Twelve is high for us. Normally we average 3-4 grizzly bear losses," he says.

Madel says there are a couple of reasons for the higher numbers this year. One: The success of decades of efforts to recover grizzly populations. He says the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem went from about 400 bears in the 1980s, to an estimated 1,000 bears today.

Mike Madel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear management biologist.
Credit Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
Mike Madel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear management biologist.

"You would expect with an expanding grizzly bear population that we'll probably suffer increasing mortalities."

And, Madel says, grizzlies are expanding into areas where they haven't been seen in 100 years; they're now starting to den up out on the prairie east of the Rocky Mountain Front and its foothills. People who live out there, around Valier, Conrad and Dutton for instance, are just now learning what it's like to have grizzlies in the area.

Madel says that bear managers, including those at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, have work to do.

"As the bear population continues to expand, not only our department, but other agencies are going to have to work harder to inform and let people know about grizzly bear ecology, why bears are there, and if they do come into conflict, to be there as immediate as possible and deal with the conflict, or deal with the situation."

Of the 12 bears that FWP confirmed were killed on the Rocky Mountain Front in the last year, Madel says five were due to self-defense situations, one was hit by a train, and one was a, "natural death" due to drowning in a canal. The rest of the bears were killed by bear managers following conflicts with people.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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