Maybe grizzly bears should carry pepper spray, too.
This calendar year, six have already been killed by humans, three times as many as during the same period last year, when Northwest Montana surpassed all previous records kept since the bears were listed as an endangered species in 1975 for human-caused grizzly mortalities, with 31.
The highest number of human-caused grizzly mortalities before that was 19 in one year—a record shared by 1998 and 2000.
Despite the carnage, James Williams, a Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife manager for the Flathead region, and John Fraley, an information and education officer for FWP, say grizzly/human conflicts in the area—as opposed to grizzly fatalities—are actually down.
They attribute the slow bear year to the rain, which they say has caused people to spend less time in the forests, and vegetation to grow better, providing the bears enough forage to keep them out of garbage cans.
Williams and Fraley dismissed recent suggestions that there have been too many bear deaths this year, coming from people like Brian Peck of Missoula’s Great Bear Foundation, as alarmist.
“Look where it’s coming from,” Williams said, suggesting bias among bear advocates.
Whatever the interpretation of the numbers, the future is tied to huckleberries. Last year, a poor harvest of the staple grizzly food was partially blamed for an increase in bear mortality.
Of this year’s bear killings, however, one was a case of mistaken identity (a hunter mistook a grizzly for a black bear), two were killed by wildlife officials after run-ins with livestock, one was killed by a landowner, and two more killings are under investigation and suspected to be poachings.
One of the allegedly poached bears’ ears and lips had been cut off before it was dumped on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. By removing the lips and ears, the poacher made off with tags and tattoos that could be used to identify the bear. But the bear had also been implanted with a tracking microchip.
FWP officials declined to discuss the potential poachings while an investigation continues.