By GREG LEMON
With hunting season upon us, it is important to remember that slow moving, quiet and camouflaged hunters are sharing the landscape with the state’s even stealthier bears.
All hunters must be prepared for encountering a grizzly bear and should consider all of western Montana grizzly bear country, not just the Rocky Mountain Front, Bob Marshall Wilderness complex and the Yellowstone ecosystem.
Just last week, a grizzly bear sighting was confirmed in the Upper Big Hole River, a chunk of ground where grizzlies have not been confirmed for decades.
The grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem are currently proposed to be delisted from the Endangered Species List. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks scientists, along with those from a variety of other partner agencies also agree that grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem have exceeded population numbers and warrant delisting. Bears are expanding out from both of these ecosystems into the prairies along the Rocky Mountain Front, the Centennial, Pioneer, and Elkhorn Mountains along with the Big Hole and the mountains between Butte and Helena.
The health of grizzly populations in two of the core recovery areas and their continued expansion into neighboring habitat marks a tremendous conservation success story, while demonstrating the importance of active management and the need for continued work to monitor bears and work with landowners, wildlife enthusiasts and communities on educating people about living in bear country.
“For years our focus was primarily on conserving grizzlies, now in some areas we’re shifting focus to education and conflict management as the bears continue to expand their territory,” said Ken McDonald, FWP wildlife division chief.
To safely hunt in bear country, hunters should:
- carry bear spray and know how to use it
- hunt with a partner and let someone else know your plans
- get harvested big game out of the woods quickly
- upon returning to a site where harvested game is left unattended, study the site at a distance for any movement or changes and signal your approach by making plenty of noise
- never attempt to frighten or haze a bear from a carcass
- contact FWP if a bear has consumed a carcass or covered it with debris rendering it unsalvageable
Additionally, black bear hunters this fall must be certain of their target before pulling the trigger. Black and grizzly bears share much of the same habitat in Montana and identification can sometimes be tricky.
For more on bears, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov; then click Be Bear Aware. Bear resistant products are described on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s website at www.igbconline.org. A “How to Hunt Safely in Grizzly Country” brochure is also available at FWP regional offices.