The Grizzly Bear Encounter
By Tim Ravndal
Historic accounts of grizzly bears in many ways is an integral part of how the west was settled. Pioneers of the west told tales that instilled fear and even a hate of the beast. Montana and Wyoming have had a colorful history where movies have been made regarding encounters with the big bears. We all recall the entertainment when the mountain man led the bear into the cabin and hollered “You skin this one and I will go fetch you another!”
Here in Montana the stories of encounters died down due to bear populations being extremely reduced. Bear encounters by ranchers having depredation employed the three SSS strategy. With the exception of limited populations within the boundaries of the “National Parks” the only place the public encountered a grizzly bear was on screen or in a book.
That all began to change with the listing of the bear as an endangered species by the federal government. Satellite populations in the parks, began to expand in numbers. As with all predators, the territorial domain of the bears began to move beyond the park boundaries. New encounters with the grizzly began being documented in places that were completely void of the big bears for over 100 years.
The federal government began a delisting process to recognize the need to manage healthy populations. After multiple setbacks due to challenges made by environmental activists the grizzly populations in and around Yellowstone Park were finally delisted. This led to the first legal hunting season to be set near the park on the Wyoming side.
The first hunting season was curtailed by legal challenges made by activists and endorsed by an activist judge in Missoula Montana. With postponements of the season and non-hunting activists claiming tags, the management plan to reduce the population outside the park has been squashed.
As we continue to see the battle being fought we also are becoming more bear aware in areas far from the national park boundaries here in Montana. With the 2018 hunting season open, encounters are being reported and the threat to safety is making headlines.
Many people continue to ask what Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks is doing to manage the grizzly populations outside the park boundaries. We asked the Director of Wildlife why Montana is not seeing any management plans. We are told that the federal government delisting action only applies to the grizzly populations in and around Yellowstone Park.
Grizzly sightings are reported out on the prairie near Choteau and Belt Montana that are far from designated Wilderness Areas. The safety of the people is once again in question. Just last week a 900-pound grizzly was in someone’s garage. Here in Broadwater County there has been grizzly bear sign reported in the Elkhorn Mountains over the past several years. According to Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, the populations of grizzly bears across Montana is being looked at in incremental segments of the state.
For example, the populations coming out near the “Rocky Mountain Front” are being looked at under a specific designated ecosystem. Without any definition of where an ecosystem begins or ends it is difficult to properly identify a management plan that works. The grizzly bear populations across Montana from Eureka to Redlodge are still listed by the federal government as either endangered or threatened. Officials with Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks estimate that management studies will continue for the next several years before management plans may include a hunting season. The failure to take a proactive approach in the management of the large predators is a challenge that the people of Montana are watching closely.
Be bear aware and watch your top knot!
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