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Bear Managers Report Busy Spring For Grizzly Conflicts

A subadult male grizzly bear was euthanized after it repeatedly broke into a chicken coop and killed several chickens off Farm to Market Road between Kalispell and Whitefish, August 21, 2019.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Bear managers around Glacier National Park say they’ve had a busy spring season with conflicts between bears and humans. Mortality numbers are on pace with last year, the second highest on record for the area.

A "mortality" counts any bear removed from the ecosystem for any reason.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Grizzly Management Specialist Mike Madel says this spring has been the busiest in his 36-year-long stint on the Rocky Mountain Front.

Madel says with a late green-up, plant-based food like cow parsnip, angelica or various grasses haven’t been available to grizzly bears venturing to lower elevations from their dens in the mountains. He adds that as a result of the limited plant food supply, grizzlies have injured or killed more cattle than in years past.

"But we’re just talking about a couple each month. A couple in March and a couple in April. We’ve already had 18 confirmed grizzly bear-rancher conflicts in April alone."

Management Specialist Tim Manley says he’s seen his fair share of conflicts around the Flathead Valley as well.

"It seems to be a little bit busier. Just definitely getting a lot more reports. Things are greening-up now and so there’s more options for them. A lot of the early green-up was in peoples’ yards and that’s where the bears are showing up. Unfortunately, people are leaving garbage and dog food and bird feeders out and bears are finding those."

Historically, FWP hasn’t historically tracked griz conflicts in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem that don’t result in mortalities. But the agency is attempting to track those numbers for the first time this year.

There have been 10 mortalities within the ecosystem this year. That number includes three cubs that were sent to a recovery center after their mother was shot by a hiker near Dupuyer in March. A hunter also recently shot and killed a grizzly on the southern end of the ecosystem. That has been classified as a defense-of-life killing, and another five bears have been euthanized due to eating cattle, food-conditioning or injury.

Those numbers are on pace with mortalities in 2019, the second highest year on record. That followed 2018 when there were a record-breaking 54 bears killed or removed from the wild. The ecosystem around Glacier averaged about 25 mortalities in prior years.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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