Wildlife Officials, Blackfoot Community Work Together on Fatal Bear Attack Details and Next Steps

Wildlife officials and the local Blackfoot Valley community are working together to wrap up details of the July 6 fatal grizzly bear attack of a camper in Ovando.

Soon the information will be sent on to the Board of Review, a group of wildlife staff from federal and state agencies assembled to look at the details of all human-bear attacks and record them in a final report. The board will release its final report, containing all details of this Ovando case sometime later this year. It will be available for review on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website at igbconline.org/bear-safety/.

On July 14, DNA results confirmed that the bear killed by wildlife officials was the same bear that fatally attacked Leah Davis Lokan in her tent in the early morning hours of July 6. DNA samples from the bear, saliva samples at the scene of the attack and samples from two chicken coops in the area that the bear raided all matched up.

The tragic event brought community members and wildlife officials together to respond, collect information and discuss next steps.

“The local Blackfoot community came together from the first moments of this incident to do all it could to help,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Hank Worsech. “This is a tight knit group of people with a long history of working together to do what they can to address the challenges of having bears in the watershed. Coming together to help and process the events of this incident has been no exception.”

Wildlife officials from FWP, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and USDA Wildlife Services have put together more details from the case indicating the 417-pound male grizzly was 6 years old. It was a healthy weight but lean, which is typical of bears at this point in the summer season just before they begin heavily foraging in preparation for a long winter with minimal food. It had a wound on its shoulder that is often characteristic for male bears during their annual breeding season, which typically runs from May through July.

The bear had no history of conflicts but was likely drawn to town in search of food.

Ovando sits in the upper Blackfoot Valley, in an area with a long history of grizzly bears and of cooperative efforts between landowners, wildlife agency employees, and community members to develop ways to live with bears that reduce impacts to livestock operations and maximize human safety. Grizzly bears are common in the Blackfoot Valley, but events that result in human injury or death are extremely rare. The only other fatal attack by a grizzly bear in the Blackfoot Valley in the past 50 years was an elk hunter in 2001.

“Grizzly bear distribution in the area has continued to expand through the years,” said Hilary Cooley, USFWS Montana-based Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator. “And as bears expand their range and the population grows in some places, there are a lot of people in the Blackfoot that consistently come together to figure out how to resolve issues and find creative solutions for working and living with bears. These efforts have been remarkable.”

The area is part of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which is a biologically recovered population of grizzly bears. Because bears are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), special rules govern what landowners and others can do.

It is legal for people to kill bears in self-defense or in defense of others, if it is reported within five days to a state or federal agency. However, killing or wounding a bear for any other reason is not allowed under the ESA, except by a federal, state, or tribal agency. The USFWS has provided guidance (click here) on legal methods that livestock owners, homeowners and the public can use to deter bears from using areas near homes or property.

Human safety around bears is a relevant topic in the Blackfoot Valley and beyond. This time of year, when bears are just starting to be more active, foraging for food ahead of the winter, FWP works to remind residents, recreationists and hunters of bear safety tips such as:

  • 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. Back away slowly and leave the area.