Guest Blog By Quentin Kujala
A growing and recovered grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes the Rocky Mountain Front, has bears in areas they haven’t been for decades. East Front landowners have expressed growing frustration and concern over the frequency and close proximity of grizzly bears to human work and home sites well removed from the Front. The department has also heard criticism of agency response as staff is increasingly hard pressed when responding to conflict across an expanding geographic area.
2016 hasn’t been easy, but we have had some successes.
FWP Region 4 staff established a phone tree in Valier to warn residents when bears are observed in or near residents and or town, started the process for a similar phone tree in Choteau, put up signs in Valier and Choteau to remind people they are living and recreating in an area where grizzly bears could be present, worked with Be Bear Aware at several town days to educate the public on the proper use of bear spray, and helped agriculture interests set up more than a dozen new electric fences aimed at reducing conflict.
In addition, FWP recognizes the need for additional resources and is looking for those resources to better respond to grizzly presence and conflicts. FWP also understands the current protocols for responding to bear conflicts were developed and first implemented under very different circumstances. While FWP conflict specialists have a long history of successfully using these protocols in dealing with bear conflicts as part of grizzly bear recovery, it is reasonable to review our response in light of current grizzly bear abundance and expanded distribution. As a listed species ultimately under federal oversight, this review needs to happen in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Serendipitously, cold weather offers a respite as bears find their way to winter hibernation. FWP is committed to using this quiet winter period to work with partners, communities and the FWS to be better prepared as bears begin emerging next spring.