MISSOULA – State wildlife biologists say more grizzly bears on the Northern Continental Divide have died from run-ins with humans this year than in any previous season in recent history.
Yet even with the spike in mortalities, they say there haven’t been enough deaths to impact the overall survivability of the population.
Wildlife managers meeting in Missoula say this has been a record year for grizzly deaths in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, that sprawl of country including Glacier National Park, the vastness of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and now much of the surrounding country.
In all, there have 51 “known and confirmed” fatalities, some from human interaction and some from natural causes.
“And some of that is because it was associated with females with cubs,” said Montana FWP Researcher and Technical Advisor Dr. Cecily Costello. “And so even if the female was killed, in some cases the cubs didn’t actually die but they were removed from the population. So we consider those mortalities.’
Collisions with vehicles were by far and away the leading cause of death for grizzlies this year. But Costello says that’s not unexpected, given the bears’ increasing population and the fact that they’re wandering over a much wider range.
In all, 17-bears were killed crossing roads, nearly twice the combined amount from 2004-to-2017. That’s a spike, but biologists believe it’s indicative of the overall population growth.
“It’s not out of the range that we’ve seen. It’s a little bit of an outlier because it’s a little high relative to that trend. But it’s still part of that trend.”
And not all those deaths are complete tragedies. Case in point was the collision which killed a grizzly sow last summer near Lincoln. FWP was able to save her three cubs and find them a new home at a zoo in Quebec, where they were recently named “Alaska”, “Yukon” and “Chinook” in a contest.
Some who’ve been criticizing data suggesting the bears should lose their federal protection as a threatened species worry the deaths could be twice as high, given tracking only involves the NCDE recovery area. But Costello says the spike in mortality still keeps the overall population within the targets biologists consider a “healthy population” of grizzlies along the Northern Divide.
“We don’t see anything alarming with the numbers that we see this year. They’re within the thresholds that we have set previously.”
The data was presented during the fall meeting of the NCDE Grizzly Bear Subcommittee, part of the overall effort for agencies to combine efforts to enable grizzly bear recovery in the Northern Rockies.
-Dennis Bragg reporting for MTN News