For nearly a month, folks were entertained by grizzly bear grazing in Donaldson’s Meadow, about a mile south of Polebridge and just north of Hay Creek. The bear would spend hours in the meadow and pretty much ignored all of the vehicles stopping on the road to watch it. Mostly, the bear kept its head down to the ground and only occasionally raised its head to look around. This encouraged people to leave their vehicles and gather along the side of the road to get a better view and to take pictures.
Over time, the crowds grew larger and the last time I was over there, over 20 cars were parked on the road with folks on foot blocking the bear’s escape from the field on three sides as they spread out on the roads on three sides of the field. A few people even ventured into the field to take pictures and were ignored by the bear.
Word was obviously spreading. I asked one lady how she happened to be there. She said she and her husband heard about the bear at a gift shop in Apgar and drove up out of curiosity. She couldn’t wait to show pictures to her friends in Illinois when they got home.
Adding to the viewing opportunity was a large female griz with two large cubs that would make an appearance at the edge of the field. They tore apart a large pile of hay, or straw, on the north side of the field. Again, no sign of aggression from the bears.
Even so, we have all been warned about habituating bears. At least North Forkers have. To me, this was a classic case of habituating. Certainly the bear grazing in the meadow would have little fear of people after having this many people around for hours at a time.
I’m sure I was not the only one who called the Department of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Finally, I was told a state car arrived and two wardens watched the scene for an hour or so. Within a day or so, action was taken.
Bear specialist Tim Manley came to the North Fork with a culvert trap.
The grazing bear was trapped and relocated away from the North Fork. It was a male a weighed 224 pounds at the time of capture. I wish it well and hope its experience with humans will not cause its death.
It was a surprise to hear from Tim that they also trapped the two cubs and they were killed. When I asked why, he said they had broken into yurts in the Polebridge area and it was considered prudent to put them down.
The mother bear was not involved in the break-in and thus was not trapped. She is still out there.
It is tragic but true that when bears get around people it too often results in the bears’ death. That is apparently the case here, although I do not know what caused the cubs to enter the yurt. Nor do I know how much damage they caused or how much food they got.
Perhaps more information will be available in the days ahead.
Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.