By now, all the grizzlies have come out of hibernation, and it seems they’re hungry for some ranch raised beef. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Wesley Sarmento and USDA Wildlife Services wildlife specialist Mike Hoggan have been busy this spring responding to livestock depredations and various grizzly bear conflicts east of Highway 89.
I’m sure by now you’ve all seen the video of the two bears swimming and playing at Lake Frances. For those of you that don’t know where Lake Frances is located, it forms the southwestern border of the town of Valier, Montana. The lake shore is less than a mile from Valier’s schools.
Those two particular bears, estimated to be two or three years old, have been seen regularly this spring at various homes around the edges of Valier. They seem to be getting habituated to humans, which is bad for the humans and bad for the bears. If they don’t learn to stay out of human settlements, US Fish and Wildlife and MTFWP will have no choice but to remove them from the population.
Recently, there were two calves and a cow killed near Valier, so I wrote a newspaper article about the incidents for The Valierian this week. Here is the article:
Spring has sprung in Montana, and with the green grass and warm weather comes an often less welcome visitor to the Rocky Mountain Front and highline – the grizzly bear.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Wesley Sarmento, a calf depredation was first reported to him on May 6 from a producer on Dupuyer Creek west of Valier.
“I responded to the initial request for investigation and made the preliminary call that it was killed by grizzly bears, as the skull had been crushed by bite force,” Sarmento said. “There was still snow on the ground so tracking was good – it was obvious by the track measurements that a female grizzly and her youngster were involved with the depredation.”
Sarmento said he then called Mike Hoggan, a wildlife specialist for USDA Wildlife Services, who confirmed that the calf had been killed by a grizzly. By state law, USDA Wildlife Services makes the final determination whether livestock have been killed by predators and which predator is responsible. The two set capture equipment in hopes of catching the culprit before any more cattle were lost.
“We set a family culvert trap and four pipe set snares,” Sarmento commented.
The following day, Sarmento and Hoggan returned to the site to check the traps.
“We had captured a young male in the culvert trap and all of our pipe sets had been set off,” he said. “We thought that the young male could be the target female’s youngster, so we held him in the back of the family culvert to increase our chances of catching the female.”
The young male was tagged with two red ear tags, and the snares were reset to attempt to capture the female again.
In the meantime, another calf depredation was reported by a neighbor.
“We set a foot snare there (at the second depredation) as well,” Hoggan explained. “The herd had trampled all of the tracks so we couldn’t say for sure what bear killed this calf.”
Upon checking the traps the next morning, Sarmento and Hoggan discovered they had captured two more grizzlies in foot snares at the site of the first depredation.
“One bear was a female that had blue ear tags,” Sarmento said. “We captured her near Lake Frances last year.”
The female was transported and released to the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area west of Bynum since she was determined not to be involved in the depredations.
The second bear that was caught turned out to be the actual yearling cub of the target female.
“We needed to get this target yearling in the back of the family trap so we could increase our chance of capturing the female,” Sarmento said. “So with landowner permission, we released the non-target young male with red tags on site so we could move the target yearling into the family trap to capture the target female.”
Once the young grizzly was safely in the culvert trap, Hoggan set a foot hold snare near the family trap to attempt to capture its mother.
After dealing with the two bears at the first depredation site, Sarmento and Hoggan traveled to the second site to check the snare, where they discovered an additional cow depredation and a two year old grizzly caught in a foot snare.
“The herd again trampled all the tracks, so we were unable to say which bear caused the depredation,” Sarmento said.
Sarmento and Hoggan determined that this two year old bear could not have been involved in the cow depredation, as it had been caught in the snare the entire night.
The grizzly was tagged with green ear tags and transported to the Blackleaf WMA and released.
As predicted, that night the female returned to the depredation site to find her cub and was captured in the foot snare.
“According to FWP conflict records, this female was a yearling when she was involved in a sheep depredation back in 1997,” Sarmento explained. “Since she had only be caught on a depredation 22 years ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Regional FWP leadership made the call to translocate her to the North Fork of the Flathead.”
Sarmento said she was fitted with a satellite collar, which transmits her bi-hourly locations every two days so they can monitor her closely.
“There have been no depredations since,” Sarmento said. “One of the landowners says his herd has calmed down greatly and feels the conflict is currently resolved.”
To report a conflict involving a grizzly bear, contact Sarmento at (406) 450-1097. To report a livestock depredation, contact Hoggan at (406) 289-0492.
This is just my opinion, but that seems like a lot of damn bears in one place, doesn’t it? Seems to be we’ve got an epidemic on our hands…
The Blackfeet Reservation has been even less fortunate, and although I have not received an official report, I have been told by Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife that there were 12 cattle depredations in April alone, along with a couple unfortunate 4-H pigs.
2019 is shaping up to be a horrible year for producers to try to keep their livestock safe from grizzlies. I would encourage everyone to work with MTFWP, Wildlife Services, People and Carnivores and Blackleaf Guardians to figure out what kind of preventative measures will work best for your ranch or farm.
Again, as always, PLEASE make an effort to attend meetings, contact your legislators and make sure your voices are heard – these bears need to be delisted and managed better, and it isn’t going to happen without your help.