LOMA – Grizzly bear awareness was at the forefront of a meeting in Loma on Tuesday evening as the expansion and population growth of grizzlies in north-central Montana continues to raise concerns.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) bear management specialist Wesley Sarmento led a discussion about topics such as what to do during a bear encounter, how to use bear spray, and how to prevent a bear from being drawn into homes.
Sarmento said the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) currently has more than 1,000 grizzly bears and a proposal to delist grizzlies in that region is set for this year.
If grizzlies are delisted in the NCDE, management responsibility would return to the state and a regulated hunting season would begin.
The NCDE includes Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and most of the Rocky Mountain Front, an area the size of Maryland and Delaware combined.
Tuesday’s meeting was held in Loma, which is 10 miles from Fort Benton along US Highway 87, to introduce residents to Sarmento, who is responsible for bears on the prairies from east of Highway 89 to the border of North Dakota.
Sarmento said he is not aware of any grizzlies around Loma at this time. But Chinook rancher Richard Stuker, the Fish and Wildlife Commissioner for District 3, it’s a possibility.
“I think it’s very wise to be aware of the possibility of having them as they move out,” he said. “In Fort Benton and that area, they’ve seen them. We haven’t seen any in the Chinook or Havre area, but not that far west of Havre, they have seen them come out in the flats between Shelby and Chester.”
Just within the last few weeks, two grizzlies visited a home west of Valier and a female grizzly and two cubs were spotted north of the Sun River by Simms.
Back in April, Brad Hodgskiss shared a video of seven grizzly bears in an open-prairie grassland southwest of Choteau. And last July, two grizzlies were captured west of Stanford after killing several calves that belonged to the Surprise Creek Hutterite Colony.
“They are increasing on the plains,” Sarmento said. “We’ve had a handful of conflicts along the Marias in the last five years.”
He added that grizzlies have been consistently spotted around Tiber Dam as well.
During Sarmento’s presentation, he explained the importance of securing attractants such as garbage and carrying bear spray when recreating or hunting in areas with a known grizzly presence.
He also asked that people report any grizzly sightings to FWP as well as inform a neighbor.
For more tips and resources about encountering a grizzly or recreating in bear country, visit FWP’s website. The Montana FWP Prairie Bear Monitor Facebook page also provides updates and information about grizzlies across the region.
Reporting by Natalie McAlpine for MTN News