Grizzly Bear Detected on Montana Side of the Bitterroots

A male grizzly bear with a GPS tracking collar was detected in a remote area of Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest about 15 miles west of Stevensville before moving back into Idaho early this week.

Although the bear has remained in mostly remote areas, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and Bitterroot National Forest officials say that its movement into the Bitterroot offers a good reminder that people should expect grizzly bears on the landscape across western Montana.

“Collared bears provide insights into the movement patterns of other uncollared bears that we can expect to be out there,” said Jamie Jonkel, FWP Bear Management Specialist.

Biologists said that this three-year-old male grizzly made its way south after emerging from its den in the Cabinet Mountains this spring and has spent most of its time recently on the Idaho side of the divide, passing briefly into Montana late last week.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologist Wayne Kasworm said wildlife officials plan to continue to monitor the bear and its movements. The remote areas where this bear has spent most of its time this spring and summer are considered prime grizzly habitat where bears, like this one, are expected to move on their own over time.

Grizzly bears in the Bitterroot remain relatively uncommon, compared to other parts of western Montana. Still, through the years, several grizzly bears have been confirmed in the Sapphire Mountains on the east side of the valley, in the Lolo Creek drainage, and as far south as the Big Hole Valley. Last October, a young grizzly bear was captured at the Whitetail Golf Course near Stevensville.

“We know we have a strong population of black bears in the Bitterroot, and the addition of these confirmed grizzly bears means that it is extra important to keep the area around your home free from bear attractants,” FWP’s Jonkel said.

Be sure to keep garbage indoors until the day of collection; consider using electric fencing around chickens, garden areas and compost piles; and move other attractants such as pet food, dirty barbecue grills and ripe fruit indoors or into a secure building.

“If bears are able to find these things easily, then they tend to stay in the areas around where we live, instead of moving on to natural food sources,” Jonkel said.

“This grizzly bear also serves as a good reminder for people to keep clean camps and practice bear aware tactics like carrying bear spray when out on the forest,” said Tod McKay, spokesman for the Bitterroot National Forest.

The Forest Service recommends that campers never store food or scented products like toothpaste or sunscreen in tents or outside at a campsite, unsecured. Instead, store food in a hard-sided vehicle or camper or in an approved bear resistant storage container when available. When horse riding or backpacking, the agency recommends hanging food at least 10 feet off the ground and five feet from tree trunks and at least 100 yards from campsites. Dishes and cooking utensils should be cleaned promptly after use and away from campsites.

“We are used to having black bears around us, and the recent grizzly bear just emphasizes the need to expect the possibility of seeing either type of bear when recreating and to be prepared,” McKay said.