You’d Better Be Careful: Grizzlies Seen in Missoula and Bitterroot
State biologists say they've confirmed at least two cases of grizzly bears close to Missoula, and are still checking into reports of other grizzly sightings over the past few weeks.
And Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is advising everyone to use their "bear aware" precautions to stay safe, and keep the bears out of trouble as well.
It's all part of a summer where grizzlies are showing up in locations in Montana where they haven't been seen in a century, or more.
Bears on the borders of Missoula
FWP biologists have confirmed that a photo taken of a bear in the north hills, near Snowbowl, was in fact a grizzly.
"So we know that one for sure. Then there's been other reports and some of the rattlesnake areas," explains FWP spokeswoman Vivaca Crowser. "Some of the trails in the Rattlesnake area, as well as Marshall Mountain area. Not confirmed, but all the signs point to the likelihood of that being a grizzly bear, at least one."
"And then again kind of the same thing in the Clinton area. With some reports of a bear, or maybe bears out there that are consistent with what we'd expect from a grizzly bear."
The second grizzly was incidentally trapped this week southeast of Missoula, on the east side of the Bitterroot Valley during a black bear research study led by the MPG Ranch. The 275-pound, three-year-old male, had a tag showing it was once trapped in the Flathead. Because he didn't have a history of conflict, FWP staff released him on-site.
This has been coming for a while
Crowser says it's further evidence that grizzlies are no longer confined to remote backcountry locations, but are moving into areas much closer to population centers.
That's a trend biologists have been expecting for more than 10 years now, as grizzly populations in the Northern Rockies continue to grow, forcing some bears to start ranging over wider areas for food and habitat.
Not just backyard precautions, but backcountry too
"We’ve had enough confirmed grizzly bears in the Missoula area to remind us to expect grizzlies in spots that we live and recreate not too far from town,” said Jamie Jonkel, FWP’s western Montana bear specialist. “This is a time of year when bears are out feeding on berries, and we are often recreating—biking, hiking, and camping—in the same areas, so it is important to be extra cautious. Around the home, it is important to keep bear attractants secured.”
Crowser says it's about rethinking our outdoor use.
"Shifting that mindset to just expect that you need to have your backyard bear-resistant for black bears and yes, potentially grizzly bears, more and more. And then when you're headed out, even just for a quick day hike or bike ride, just going through that mental preparedness of 'I could run into a bear. If I do here's what I need to do'. Having that bear spray with you, having it handy and having gone through training."
"We're offering more and more of those on how to use bear spray, but also there are some great resources online. A good video that just shows you what you need to do so that you know how to quickly get that safety off the bear spray and use it if you have to. "
FWP Tips for recreating in bear country:
- Carry bear spray close at hand and know how to use it.
- Travel in groups whenever possible and plan to be back to your vehicle in the daylight hours.
- Avoid carcass sites and concentrations of ravens and other scavengers.
- Watch for signs of bears such as bear scat, diggings, torn-up logs and turned-over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.
- Make noise, especially near streams or in thick forest where hearing and visibility is limited. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know humans are present.
- Don't approach a bear.