Elk NetworkGrizzlies Wander Across Much of Montana

General | August 27, 2021

Below is a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Wildlife officials confirmed four grizzly bears in Montana’s Upper Clark Fork and Bitterroot Valleys this year, ranging from Gold Creek to Sula.

Although grizzly bears don’t inhabit the Deer Lodge, Flint Creek and Bitterroot Valleys in the density they do in some other parts of western Montana, activity has steadily increased over the past 10 years.

In the Flint Creek Range, east of Philipsburg, area residents submitted photos in May that later led to the confirmation of two grizzly bears. Public reports like these often provide important clues for biologists. Later this summer, another trail camera that is part of a research study captured photos of two grizzly bears near the headwaters of Rock Creek, southwest of Philipsburg.

Details of one of the photographed bear’s movements was also tracked on a radio collar and downloaded later.  The data showed that the bear left the Seeley Lake area this spring, crossed Interstate 90, moved through the Flint and Rock Creek areas, and then traveled as far south as Sula in the Bitterroot Valley.

The areas where these grizzlies were confirmed sit between established populations of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the southeast and the Northern Continental Divide to the northwest.

“We’ve had enough confirmed grizzly bears to remind us to expect grizzlies anywhere in western half of Montana and not just in those spots where we tend to think of them being more common,” said Jamie Jonkel, FWP’s western Montana bear specialist.

Riparian areas in the Upper Clark Fork draw bears looking for berries and other food sources. Sometimes grizzlies will cross I-90 and head south in their quest for food.  Black and grizzly bears can be found throughout much of the western half of Montana, so it is important to review bear safety tips and keep the areas around your home free from bear attractants to prevent issues for bears and people. Consider these tips:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and look for bear sign.
  • Read signs at trailheads and stay on trails. Be especially careful around creeks and in areas with dense brush.
  • Carry bear spray. Know how to use it and be prepared to deploy it immediately.
  • Travel in groups whenever possible and make casual noise, which can help alert bears to your presence.
  • Stay away from animal carcasses, which often attract bears.
  • Follow food storage orders from the applicable land management agency.
  • If you encounter a bear, never approach it. Leave the area when it is safe to do so.

Keeping bear attractants secure, out of a bear’s reach, is especially important. When out, keep clean camps, store food and any other scented attractants securely away from sleeping areas and follow all food storage regulations.  Around home, be sure to keep garbage indoors until the day of collection; remove bird feeders when bears are out and active; consider using electric fencing around chickens, garden areas and compost piles; and move other attractants such as pet food, dirty barbecue grills and ripe fruit indoors or into a secure building.

Research ongoing into movement of grizzly bears between NCDE and Greater Yellowstone area

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Defenders of Wildlife, is working on a genetic survey project on National Forest lands in southwest and western Montana this summer. The initial survey work is nearly complete, but the DNA analysis and final results will take up to a year.

The purpose of this study was to collect DNA and photographic evidence of grizzly bears moving in between the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems and the Bitterroot Recovery Zone to help biologists understand more about the grizzly bears dispersing throughout this area over the past decade.

(Photo source:  Frank Van Manen/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)