Grizzly bears continue to make their march to the east of the Rocky Mountain Front.
Montana Fish Wildlife and Park said a grizzly bear recently killed a calf on a ranch near Two Dot, which is 117 road miles east of Helena.
That’s the farthest east a grizzly has roamed in at least a couple of decades, noted FWP spokesman Greg Lemon. Last year, two subadult males were killed after they killed cattle near Stanford, which is north and east of Two Dot about 80 road miles.
The calf death was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, the agency responsible for investigating any livestock depredation.
After determining the calf was killed by a grizzly bear, Wildlife Services tried unsuccessfully to capture the bear at the site. Given a high number of black bears in the area as well, traps were pulled on Oct. 10.
A grizzly bear was photographed with a trail camera in early September near the Haymaker Wildlife Management Area about 12 miles north of the calf kill, but it’s not known whether this is even the same bear, Lemon said.
Grizzly bears are expanding their range in Montana and although they aren’t common in the mountains around Two Dot – the Little Belts, Crazies and Snowies – populations are expanding out from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in all directions. Dispersing bears can roam many miles.
Grizzlies were once a plains animal and prior to settlement of Europeans, there were as many as 50,000 grizzlies across the West. The plains have a high variety of food sources, Lemon noted. They’ll even graze in grain fields.
It is unknown at this time whether this grizzly bear came from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem or the Greater Yellowstone. Biologists with FWP are investigating and trying to locate either scat or hair samples from the bear for DNA analysis, which will indicate where it came from.
Lemon said there’s enough DNA data on both ecosystems that biologists will be able to track the lineage of the bear.
The bear is actually closer to the northern edge of the Greater Yellowstone, Lemon noted.
The bear comes with a warning to hunters. Hunters this time of year, whether pursuing big game or birds, should be prepared to encounter grizzly bears anywhere in the western half of Montana, even if bears aren’t known to be there. Being bear aware while hunting means carrying bear spray and being prepared to use it, hunting with more than one person and always letting someone know where you’re going, FWP warns. Additionally, hunters should be on the look out for bear activity, including overturned rocks and logs, tracks and scat.
Once big game season starts, hunter run-ins with grizzlies are not uncommon.