Bear Necessities: Montana Grizzly Relocation Provides Rare Close-up of a Burly Bruin
By: Amanda Horvath
We all need our space. Grizzly bears need a lot of it! Female grizzly bears require a home range of 50 to 300 square miles, while males need 150 to 600 square miles of space to forage.
Grizzly bears generally emerge from hibernation and begin actively foraging from March through May. Denning for winter hibernation typically begins in October or November. Females give birth during the denning season and continue raising their young for two-and-a-half years. Human-grizzly bear interactions in the wild, and sometimes even in one’s backyard, can occur any time during the non-denning season.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continually works with state wildlife agencies, private landowners, tribes and other partners across the United States to support ongoing wildlife conservation and monitoring efforts. Increasing human and grizzly bear populations in the American West (the latter resulting from decades of coordinated and collaborative grizzly bear recovery efforts) also mean an increased potential of human-grizzly interactions.
This story highlights just one example of how the Service supports states and local communities as good neighbors by helping to reduce human-wildlife conflict and facilitating a safe and healthy environment where humans and wildlife can continue to thrive for future generations.
In late April 2018, a crafty grizzly bear was spotted eating seeds and suet from bird feeders around homes in the town of Whitefish, Montana. State and federal biologists, including those from the Service, worked together to ensure safety for the bear and local community by relocating the 246-pound male grizzly bear to a less densely human populated (and more bear-appropriate) portion of Montana: a remote part of Montana’s Kootenai National Forest.
Explore a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 Montana grizzly bear relocation below!
When wildlife biologists at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) received a call reporting a grizzly bear near a residential neighborhood, they quickly swooped in to safely capture the large mammal and relocate the grizzly bear to a less densely human populated area.
The goal is to decrease the potential for human-wildlife conflict. Montana FWP is annually supported by grant funding from the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) and the Service’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Program to manage wildlife in this way — partnering with others to protect people and wildlife.
A Closer Look
When a bear needs to be relocated, biologists seize the opportunity to collect valuable data. First, the bear must be sedated. Eye drops are then applied to keep the bear’s eyes lubricated. Its eyes are also covered with a clean cloth to ensure they remain free from dirt or debris.
Data Collection Reveals Details about Bear Health
Once the bear is completely sedated and its eyes are covered for protection, biologists move it out to an open area to evaluate its health. The bear’s girth, length and footpads are each measured. Blood and hair samples are taken to help identify what the bear is eating and to evaluate genetics. This bear was from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) population of grizzly bears.
Biologists estimated that this particular male grizzly bear was a subadult, likely about two or three years old, by examining his teeth. The NCDE grizzly bear population is believed to support more than 1,000 grizzly bears, likely the biggest population in the lower 48 states.
A Heavy Lift
The bear’s weight is recorded next (this one weighed 246 pounds) and it takes quite a few hands to lift it. Adult male grizzly bears can stand up to 7 feet tall and weigh 300 to 600 pounds. (Females are smaller, generally weighing 200 to 400 pounds.)
The grizzly bear is also fitted with a GPS collar so biologists can track its future movements. This will provide important information about the bear’s behavior, home range and the type of desirable habitat the bear uses.
Hair samples collected from grizzly bears can also provide biologists with insights into the bear’s genetics and may provide limited information about a bear’s reproductive success if hair samples are additionally collected from offspring in the future.
Back to the Wild
All necessary health and biological data are collected in about an hour. At this point, the bear begins to stir. It’s time to return it safely into his temporary trailer, where it recovers and awaits release back into the wild. The next morning this bear is released far from Whitefish, Montana, where he can continue foraging in the wild.
Bear and Human Safety
The conservation success story of grizzly bear recovery in portions of the American West means that increasing grizzly bear numbers may also result in an increased possibility of human-grizzly bear interactions. Human-caused mortality is the greatest threat to grizzly bears, which today exist in only 2 percent of their original range in the lower 48 states.
Human-caused mortality includes accidental grizzly bear deaths (such as those caused by automobile collisions), management removals, defense-of-life killing and illegal killing of grizzly bears (poaching).
Prevention, education and awareness offer some solutions for reducing human-caused mortality of grizzly bears — it’s best to avoid human contact with grizzly bears in the first place.
Food conditioning — which may occur when bears can readily access garbage, pet food, bird feeders and other easy snacks — creates a dangerous situation for people and wildlife. Securing food and garbage at home, while hiking and while camping is an important way to avoid attracting bears. Bear-proof products can help keep human food secure and bears at bay as well.
In the case of this relocated Montana grizzly bear, humans provided the food source (bird feed) that attracted the bear. This situation and similar instances are avoidable. Communities and individuals can be more bear aware and remove food sources — such as pet food, bird feed and garbage — that attract bears in the first place to avoid future human-bear interactions. State or federal biologists can offer advice, too.
Discover additional safety tips to use if you encounter a bear in the wild, such as looking for signs of bear traffic, talking loudly to make your presence known in bear country and never running from a bear (which, at up to 35 miles per hour, are faster than humans!).
Supporting State Wildlife Conservation — The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR)
WSFR administers grant funding to state wildlife agencies across the United States, including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Funds for wildlife conservation are provided through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and generated through an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, and arrow components — just one of the many ways that hunters and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages support wildlife conservation.
These grant funds are applied throughout the nation to a wide variety of wildlife management activities, including projects like grizzly bear relocations to help recover, restore, and manage native wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Learn more about grizzly bear conservation and how you can help native wildlife in your local community.
Amanda Horvath, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, Mountain-Prairie Region