FWP responds to several grizzly bear incidents in SW Montana

Posted at 10:04 AM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 10:09:49-04

Bear specialists and game wardens with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks have responded to several incidents in recent weeks involving grizzly bears in southwestern Montana. No people were injured in these conflicts. However, one grizzly bear was euthanized, and several others were relocated.

FWP provided the following information in a news release.

Defensive encounter
On October 14, two hunters were walking along Eldridge Trail south of Taylor Creek in the Madison Range. They heard brush breaking and saw a grizzly bear charging at them. Both hunters fired multiple handgun rounds at the bear, and it left without any signs of injury. The hunters were not injured.

The bear’s charge was likely the result of a surprise, defensive encounter because of the wind direction, the bear’s proximity to the hunters and because the female bear was accompanied by two cubs.

The next day, FWP staff flew the area extensively and did not find an injured bear. During a ground search, FWP and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement staff found bear tracks and handgun casings from the two hunters, but they did not find blood, hair or any other evidence the bear was injured.

This incident is being by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Gardiner bears relocated
A female grizzly bear and two cubs were recently captured and relocated from Gardiner.

The bears were first reported to FWP on October 10 after eating from apple trees in town and grazing on grass and dandelions on the football field at Gardiner High School in the evenings. Staff from FWP and Yellowstone National Park hazed the bears out of town at night five times over several days with paintballs, cracker rounds, and rubber bullets. The bears eventually moved to another part of town, where they continued eating apples at night. Over time, the bears continued to return and eat apples more often during daylight hours, reducing opportunities to safely haze the bears due to daytime public safety concerns.

On the morning of October 17, the bears were reported feeding at apple trees near a school bus stop, which prevented kids from being able to get on the bus.

As a preventative measure, FWP trapped all three bears that evening. The bears were in good health, and there was no evidence they had gained access to unsecured garbage. In consultation with the USFWS, FWP bear specialists outfitted the sow with a GPS collar and relocated the bears to a site previously approved by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Big Sky grizzly euthanized
An adult female grizzly bear was euthanized on October 21 after several conflicts with people in Big Sky.

The female and two cubs frequented homesites in Big Sky for several weeks leading up to the day they were captured. The bears were also seen at Ophir Elementary School during daylight and evening hours. Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputies and private landowners made multiple attempts to haze the bears out of town with vehicles and rubber bullets, but the bears kept returning to the area.

At about 11 a.m. on October 19, the bears approached a group of people on private property, forcing the people to go into a building. A landowner approached the bears in a vehicle, attempting to haze them away, and the female bear charged at them. The bears then left for a short time and returned to the property again.

FWP was notified of the encounter and trapped the bears on the property. The 25-year-old sow was found to have poor body condition, with low fat reserves and heavily worn teeth. In consultation with the USFWS, FWP euthanized the sow due to human safety concerns; the bear’s poor health, habituated behavior, and aggressive response to hazing; and property damage.

The bear had been captured previously as a non-conflict bear during annual population monitoring research. The cubs were relocated to a commission-approved release site.

Grizzly bear mortality on Highway 191
On October 23, an FWP game warden responded to a report of an older male grizzly bear that was hit by a vehicle and died on U.S. Highway 191 near West Yellowstone.