Grizzly bear observed at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff observed a grizzly bear on the morning of June 14 at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, about 10 miles northeast of Great Falls in Cascade County.

Officials first thought the bear was the sibling of the bear that died earlier this week of insecticide poisoning. However, the bear observed at Benton Lake NWR is noticeably larger than the sibling bear (300 pounds vs. 130 pounds), and FWP biologists have determined it is a different bear.

Expansion and movement of grizzly bears beyond the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which covers much of northwestern Montana, including the Rocky Mountain Front, is becoming more common and sightings are becoming more frequent.

“Bears are present in many areas that the public may not be expecting them to be,” said FWP Region 4 Supervisor Gary Bertellotti. “FWP is working to provide communities, residents and agricultural producers with education on how to secure attractants and to provide preventative tools to reduce and avoid conflict and reducing the risk to health and human safety.”

Partners from Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, including USFWS, FWP, various tribes, U.S. Forest Service, and other partners will be meeting next week in Polson to discuss bear management and the delisting process for the NCDE.

Residents in bear country should follow some general steps to ensure they don’t attract bears to their property:

Ensure bird feeders are taken down and secured.
Pet food is stored inside or in a bear proof container
Garbage is secured.
Barbecues are clean and secured.

Additionally, the public can call FWP immediately if they see bears on their property.

For those recreating anywhere in the western half of Montana, follow these general tips to stay safe:

Inquire about recent bear activity in the area.
Carry and know how to use bear pepper spray for emergencies.
Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Travel in groups of three or more people whenever possible and plan to be out in the daylight hours.
Stay on trails or rural roads.
Watch for signs of bears such as bear scat, diggings, torn-up logs and turned over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.
Keep children close.
Make your presence known by talking, singing, carrying a bell, or other means, especially when near streams or in thick forest where visibility is low. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know humans are present.
Use caution in areas like berry patches where bears occur.
Don’t approach a bear; respect their space and move off.

If you are camping in bear country, follow these guidelines:

Camp away from trails and areas where you see grizzly signs.
Keep a clean camp at all times. Keep tents and sleeping bags free of odors.
Avoid cooking smelly foods.
Hang all food, trash and other odorous items well away from camp and at least 10 feet above ground and 4 feet from any vertical support, or store in a bear-proof container. Livestock feed should be treated the same as human food.
Don’t sleep in the same clothes you wore while cooking or eating.

Anglers also need to practice safe behavior in bear country:

Don’t leave fish entrails on shorelines of lakes and streams.
Sink entrails in deep water. If you don’t properly dispose of entrails you increase danger to yourself and to the next person to use the area.