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Grizzly bear sets up home turf south of I-90; may have a mate

| December 29, 2021 7:05 AM

By CHRIS PETERSON

Hungry Horse News

Slowly, but surely, grizzly bears continue to expand their range in Montana. Perhaps the most interesting find has been a male grizzly bear that moved south of Interstate 90 in the past year or so and now has a home range near Deer Lodge, outside of Butte.

The bear was radio-collared after getting into trouble with chickens, but has pretty much stayed out of trouble since, noted Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks biologist Cecily Costello at a meeting earlier this month of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear subcommittee.

The bi-annual meeting brings bear managers and land management agencies to discuss all things grizzly.

According to radio-collared data, the grizzly made multiple attempts to cross Interstate 90. She said they believe the bear finally actually went under the highway, where a bridge goes over the Clark Fork River. That passage also allowed the grizzly to go under railroad tracks that parallel the highway as well.

Prior to that, the bear had spent nearly a month on a couple of occasions with 500 meters of the busy highway, the radio collared data found.

But the story of the bear gets more intriguing — a separate study is underway by the U.S. Geological Survey in the area and the bear was found to be with another bear, possibly a female, captured in a camera trap.

The USGS is doing a large DNA hair trapping study in the region, similar to what was done in Glacier National Park years ago.

The noninvasive study sets up “hair traps” of barbed wire. The bear hair is then analyzed to see if its grizzly or black bear.

Since the grizzly crossed I-90, it hasn’t crossed back to the north since, indicating it probably has set up a home range in the region.

Male grizzlies bear typically roam farther than female bears.

Costello noted that since the bear moved south, it spends far more time on public lands — about 65% than it did when it lived in the north, where is spent about 40% of its time on public land.

That could guide future management of bears as they move to the southwest, as moving them north may actually cause bears to get into more trouble with private landowners, not less.

The grizzly bear movement is important to overall recovery of grizzlies, as federal court rulings in recent years have said the bears need to have established populations in several ecosystems in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, before they can be delisted from the Endangered Species Act.

On the subject of delisting, grizzly bear recovery coordinator Hillary Cooley of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said during the meeting that the agency is still awaiting direction from the Biden Administration on the subject.

To date, nothing has happened.

Grizzly bears have well-established populations in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with more than 1,000 in the NCDE and more than 700 in the Yellowstone

The NCDE covers about 8 million acres of land from Glacier National Park south to Ovando. The Yellowstone includes all of Yellowstone National Park as well as wildlands in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

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