Grizzlies on the move: living with wildlife

Residents and tourists alike delight in the vast diversity of wildlife in the Beartooth Wilderness.

A FWP Bear Conflict Manager, Kylie Kembel, has been assigned to Red Lodge. Why now?

FWP Region 5 Supervisor Barb Beck said the grizzly population is “really robust now.” Besides FWP biologist Shawn Stewart’s increasing workload (deer, elk, sage grouse, bear, etc.), FWP has sought to increase education about bears. A few such positions exist around western Montana.

‘Ursus arctos horribilis’ is on the move to this area. Red Lodgians are unfazed about large predators passing through. Last year, a popular photo on FB was of a female mountain lion and her three large offspring sauntering towards town.

Stewart said, “The conflict management specialist position is part of the FWP's long term commitment to grizzly recovery in the GYE (Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

According to Stewart, there are at least 3 Conflict Managers in the Kalispell area, one or two in the Missoula area, two around Bozeman and another couple around Great Falls.

He was asked about the expanding grizzly populations outside YNP in the “Designated Management Area” (DMA) like Red Lodge.

Stewart replied, “Within the DMA, bear numbers have been roughly stable since about 2002. Adult survival has been stable.  Cub and yearling survival has declined a bit.  Distribution has certainly changed and bears outside of the DMA are likely increasing somewhat.  This is due to both emigration from the DMA and better cub survival.

Meanwhile, he said, “Outside of the DMA, the bears face challenges as they travel through a more heavily occupied human landscape.  Conflicts with livestock producers are likely to dampen, but not necessarily stop, expansion.”

By now, said Stewart previously, “There is a grizzly in every drainage.”

Biologist and Executive Committee member of the Interagency Grizzly Team, Frank Van Manen agreed with that assessment. “Yes, I think that’s a good way of telling the story of this population.” He noted that the 718 “official” count of grizzlies in GYE is “very much an underestimate,”ranging as high as 1000 bears since they “can’t see every bear” and it is based “primarily on summer survey flights and agency observations of sows with cubs.”

The bears reached the maximum healthy population level in YNP for their “distinct population segment.”Once Federal FW declared this, delisting followed. The protections the grizzly had enjoyed since 1975, that assured its healthy recovery were now lifted.

Last August, John Dougherty, a journalist for the “The Revelator,”the magazine of the Center for Biological Diversity, wrote an article on the recovery entitled, “Special Report: Yellowstone Grizzlies Face Unbearable Divides.”

Dougherty asks, “The essential question becomes: How do grizzlies, which were nearly wiped out in the Yellowstone region and most of their historic range in the lower 48 states more than a century ago, naturally expand their current range and grow their numbers so that extinction is no longer a threat?”

There is a federal Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan Conservation Strategy. It is stated on the website that it

“emphasizes coordination and cooperative working relationships among management agencies, landowners, and the public to ensure public support.”

The plan calls for flexibility in five areas:

“1. Grizzly–human conflict management and bear habitat management are high priorities in the recovery zone, which is known as the Primary Conservation Area. Bears are favored when grizzly habitat and other land uses are incompatible; grizzly bears are actively discouraged and controlled in developed areas.

2. State wildlife agencies have primary responsibility to manage grizzly bears outside of national parks.

3. State and federal wildlife managers will continue to monitor the grizzly population and habitat conditions.

4. Managers will remove nuisance bears conservatively and within mortality limits outlined above, and with minimal removal of females (the emphasis is to remove the cause of human conflict).

5. States manage outside the Primary Conservation Area.”

Glacier National Park area has a grizzly population and lies about 400 miles north of YNP. It connects to Canada’s population of brown bears. YNP’s bear population is genetically distinct from these bears.

Dougherty states, “In the long run, bear experts say, that connectivity will be critical to a healthy population of bears in the lower 48.”

Will the northern and southern populations meet?

Dougherty writes, “Conservation organizations and academic biologists support this natural dispersion and connectivity, where grizzlies could move through protected corridors across a vast landscape and find other grizzly populations. There, they can mix their genes and improve their odds to survive as a species.”

Stewart says that despite obstacles, “In my opinion there will be some degree of interchange between the Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems in the not too distant future.”

According to Dougherty, Van Manen states, “The edges of the distribution are now only separated by about 70 miles and that’s close to striking distance of a dispersing male. So we’re pretty close.”

Van Manen told CCN that the two groups are likely to meet and mix over the next 5-10 years. “No scientific evidence has been found at this time.” Asked whether the mixing could result in YNP bears being back on the endangered species list with the others he said, “Interesting question.” But with ongoing efforts to delist all grizzlies, the question may be moot by then. “In that case, it would stay the same.”

Van Manen helped research potential corridors to connect the two populations. Whether this will be permitted to occur is the question. Meanwhile, YNP grizzlies disperse.

Van Manen doesn’t envision grizzlies walking downtown Red Lodge (which would be different than black bears he says because of grizzlies “level of aggression”). There are much less grizzlies.

Instead, he offers West Yellowstone as a model. “It’s kind of similar. They’ve been occupying the same range for quite a long time. It’s really not a problem there. "It used to be but “Yellowstone really stepped up its efforts to keep bears away from garbage. It was mostly successful.”

He advises, “Anywhere people occupy a range with grizzlies, everyone should be prepared for that incident where you could run into a bear.” Tools include garbage management, electrifying yards and livestock management. If a community takes such precautions, encounters with grizzlies are “fairly preventable.”

Van Manen believes the numbers will stay low due to car deaths and encounters causing relocations. But also at work is the “natural method” as in YNP. When the population gets too dense, larger males often kill the young cubs.

Should hunting take place as soon as an endangered species is delisted? Stewart said, “Hunting remains an option as part of the long term management program for grizzlies.  Those decisions will be made on an annual basis and depend on the discretionary mortality limits that are defined in the conservation strategy.”

On Feb. 8, FWP said it is proposing to the Commission on March 15, that there should be no grizzly hunt this fall.



Upcoming Events

  • Monday, June 17, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 20, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, June 20, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, June 21, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Rock Creek Group meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. at Calvary Church, 9 N Villard, Red Lodge.
  • Monday, June 24, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.

The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

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P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

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Open: Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.