A ranch about five miles west of Dupuyer lost 10 calves earlier this week to grizzly bears.
The cattle were located in a creek bottom with thick willow cover. Specialists from USDA Wildlife Services, working in coordination with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ bear specialist, confirmed a grizzly was the cause of the depredation and at least 12 grizzly bears were in the area, including sows with cubs.
This depredation event near Dupuyer presents a unique challenge for the landowner and bear specialists alike because the high density of bears could result in more depredations. Additionally, there is uncertainty as to which bear, or bears, killed the cattle, and it is an extremely difficult and dangerous circumstance for specialists to try and capture individual bears. The cattle that were in the creek bottom have been moved to a different pasture to allow for better protection. The livestock owner will be eligible for compensation from the livestock loss fund.
While options are limited in this particular circumstance, FWP and Wildlife Services can often identify and provide assistance to proactively protect livestock and to help reduce other kinds of bear conflict.
In general, bears are very active this time of year across Montana as they try to put on weight prior to hibernation. This can put bears in conflict with people and livestock.
This week, up and down the Rocky Mountain Front and areas east where creek bottoms provide the bears easy travel corridors to the prairie, bears are making their presence known. FWP bear specialists have responded to citizen complaints of bears eating apples around Choteau, Valier and residences east of Highway 287. Wildlife Services and FWP specialists have responded to bears killing livestock in several locations around central and southwest Montana this summer, including Madison, Carbon, Teton, Glacier, Pondera, and Lewis & Clark counties.
“Given the number of bears and their increased level of activity, it’s really important that people and communities in bear country secure their attractants,” said Gary Bertellotti, FWP’s Region 4 supervisor. “Securing attractants means putting away bird feeders, keeping pet food inside and making sure you don’t have fruit on the ground under your trees. If people are observing bears or having problems, please let us know right away.”
In Montana, bear country can be anywhere in the western half of the state and beyond. This year grizzly bears have shown up in places they haven’t been for decades, maybe even more than a century – Highwood and Big Belt Mountains for instance.
This is also the time of year when bears move off seasonal sources of food, like berries and chokecherries. Livestock in and around these sources of food become more susceptible to depredation as bears look to put on weight for the winter.
Additionally, archery and bird hunters who are hunting in these areas need to understand they could be in close proximity to bears even if they’re miles away from the Rocky Mountain Front. This is a critical time of year to be bear aware – don’t hunt alone, carry bear spray and be ready to use it and, if possible, make plenty of noise in areas where visibility is limited, even in areas where you wouldn’t expect bears.
Grizzly bears are currently listed on the Endangered Species List in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes the Rocky Mountain Front and points further east. Though the population in the NCDE has reached recovery goals, the delisting process for the population is just getting underway.
With the federal protections in place, FWP coordinates all bear management activities with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
People who see grizzly bears or have problems with them getting into attractants should immediately contact FWP. Livestock depredation events are investigated by both FWP and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. If producers have a depredation, they should contact either agency. Human safety concerns are addressed by FWP. To contact FWP call (406) 454-5840. To contact USDA Wildlife Services call (406) 657-6464.