by Eve Byron, Independent Record
With grizzly bears being found farther out from the Rocky Mountain Front than in past years, officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are holding community meetings — including one in Wolf Creek next month — to discuss better ways to co-exist with them.
Game Warden Bryan Golie said grizzly bears’ presence has increased steadily east of the Front during the past five years, including around the Wolf Creek and Dearborn areas. He adds that the bears typically don’t cause any conflicts, but officials get quite a few people calling about them.
The bears are gradually moving onto the plains to make use of what was once traditional grizzly bear summer habitat.
“It’s their normal habitat, and it’s where the bears want to be,” Golie said on Wednesday. “Sometimes they’re just cinnamon black bears, but there are more grizzly bears now too.
“Grizzlies are not a problem, but because of their expansion, it was natural to hold these meetings.”
He noted that black bears seem to cause more problems than grizzlies, and are common around the Little Wolf Creek, Stickney Creek, Dearborn Estates and Elk Meadows subdivisions, among others.
Along with Wolf Creek’s April 14 meeting in the schoolhouse, meetings will be held April 12 at the Simms high school and April 13 at the Marias River Electric Co-op in Shelby. All the meetings start at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, two young grizzlies were seen along the Sun River near Simms, which is about 40 miles west of Great Falls. The bears were in the same area visited by three grizzlies last year.
In the second week of March, a rancher reported a grizzly along the Marias River about 15 miles east of Interstate 15, near the head of Tiber Reservoir.
“We are having bears moving periodically out of the (grizzly) bear recovery area, both black and grizzly bears,” said Bruce Auchly, a spokesman for FWP. “That’s why we lined up meetings in three communities we don’t usually go to.”
While it’s typical for bears to head to lower elevations early in the spring and look for emerging vegetation to eat, the sightings this year are farther east than usual. That means people need to be aware of bears when recreating, fishing and working along major tributaries east of the mountains, even in areas where they haven’t seen bears before.
Last year, one lone bruin managed to travel along the Teton River almost to Loma.
“We fully expect more people to see grizzly bears on the plains and in riparian areas where we’ve not seen grizzlies in recent times,” said Gary Bertellotti, FWP Region 4 supervisor in Great Falls. “It is a new experience to see grizzly bears near Loma, along the Sun River near Simms, along the Marias River south of Shelby and in Wolf Creek. Local reactions seem to range from panic to awe.”
Generally bears come out of their dens mid to late April. Some young males may emerge sooner.
“This year’s early mild temperatures suggest bears will be out and about soon,” said Kevin Frey, FWP bear manager in the Bozeman area.
Frey said he is hoping for a few good spring storms, similar to those in 2008 and 2009, to keep bears dormant a little while longer.