by Rob Chaney of the Missoulian
October is always a lousy month to be a grizzly bear, and this October was worse than usual.
Eight of the threatened bears were killed in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem last month, compared to the 10-year October average of 5.3 dead grizzlies.
And while this year’s total-to-date of 23 grizzly deaths isn’t setting any records, the number of illegal kills has raised concern.
“That’s a higher number than we’ve seen,” grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen said Friday. “That’s really unfortunate, and we know we only know of a portion of those illegal kills.”
Poachers cut off the claws of two of the illegally killed grizzlies, but the others were left to rot, Servheen said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a $3,000 reward for information in those incidents.
What’s more troubling has been the number of bears dying at the hands of bird and big-game hunters. A couple of those encounters involved upland bird hunters entering thick brush that bears used as daybeds. One sow killed on the Rocky Mountain Front had three cubs, all of which are presumed dead as well because they’re unlikely to survive without their mother.
“We’ve had a lot of problems along the Rocky Mountain Front,” Servheen said. “This is one of the worst years for that area.”
Add to that the campground-habituated sow and two cubs killed or removed from Glacier National Park this summer and the two bears killed by trains, and bears are catching it from all sides. There were 11 grizzly deaths in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem last year, and 26 in 2007.
Last week, a team of state and federal wildlife managers worked up 33 recommendations for reducing human-bear conflicts. Many of them apply to bears on private land. While private property makes up only 9 percent of that ecosystem, it’s where 30 percent of the bears get killed.
Some recommendations call for expanded efforts to educate landowners about the dangers of birdfeeders, pet food and other bear attractants in remote areas. Encouraging hunters to avoid conflicts with bears is another topic. And talks continue with railroad safety officials about how to keep bears alive along train tracks.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists have relocated a dozen grizzlies and 53 black bears that got into trouble with humans this year, according to department spokeswoman Joleen Tadej.
And FWP game wardens have been coaching hunters on avoiding bear run-ins, particularly when a grizzly has commandeered a deer or elk carcass and begun feeding. Bears will aggressively defend such meat sources, although they will generally avoid hunters in other situations.
Another 27 grizzlies have been killed this year in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Last year, 80 bears died in the Wyoming portion of that ecosystem, prompting authorities to reconsider plans to remove the grizzly from Endangered Species Act protection there.
“Every mortality is a concern for us,” Servheen said. “And the year’s not over yet.”