Year of the Griz

A BIG thank you to Missoula based Hellgate Hunters and Anglers for their $2,000 contribution of matching financial support toward bear management within Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) Region 2 (R2).  The funding provided seasonal technical support to James Jonkel, R2 bear management specialist, and helped fund a variety of tasks such as research trapping, responding to bear complaints and maintaining grizzly bear, black bear and bear conflict response data.  Highlights of the 2012 season include trapping two trend study grizzly bears, the collection of opportunistic grizzly bear hair samples for DNA analysis, continuing the carcass pick-up program to reduce human-bear conflicts, working with Felstet Disposal to develop bear-resistant garbage containers and promoting the “bear aware” concept through information and education outreach.

Information on both population size and trend are necessary to manage the grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). Radio collared grizzly bears provide survival and reproductive data. For example, the trapping and collaring of 25 female grizzlies throughout the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem for 4 years provides 100 “bear years” of data that makes it possible to estimate population size and trend. Estimates show that grizzly populations in the NCDE have been growing at a rate of 3% per year. Using population numbers from a 2004 study conducted by USGS, MFWP estimates the current NCDE grizzly population to be approximately 1000. Given this successful population growth rate, the US Fish and Wildlife service is working toward delisting the threatened grizzly bear status by 2015 in the NCDE recovery zone.

This spring the MT FWP R-2 bear management specialists trapped and radio collared female grizzly bears for the continuation of the NCDE grizzly bear population and trend monitoring project . Two sub-adult female bears were caught in the Blackfoot Valley and were thought to be siblings that were sighted on various occasions throughout 2011. They were traveling with an adult female and one other sibling as a family group; DNA results from the captures will provide more information. The grizzly bear family group was photographed on a motion camera and was observed during an aerial flight survey. Both locations were northwest of Ovando, MT.

When a research grizzly bear is trapped in a culvert trap and confirmed as the target species, the weight of the bear is estimated for the correct drug dosage during immobilization. Once the bear is immobilized, the handlers remove the bear from the trap and begin to monitor the temperature, pulse, and respiration of the bear while oxygen is administered. Handlers look for ear tags, tattoos on the inner lips and scan for a pit tag to see if the bear has been previously captured. A metal detector is used to see if there are any bullets in the bear and the bear is accurately weighed. A BIA is conducted to measure the fat content of the bear and general observations are made as to the health of the bear as well as confirmation of the sex. If the bear has not been previously handled, a tattoo is placed on the inside of the lip, a pit tag is inserted behind the ear, and an ear tag is placed in an ear for identification purposes. A radio collar is then secured around the neck of the bear. Body measurements are taken, blood is drawn and hair samples are taken for DNA research. For safety purposes during the handling the bear is secured to a tree with a snare. Once the handling is complete the bear is then placed back in the culvert trap and monitored until the immobilization drugs have worn off. When the bear is fully recovered the bear is then released on site from the safety of the truck. The location of the bear can then be monitored throughout the season by researchers.

Throughout the 2012 season opportunistic hair samples were gathered from a variety of bear rub objects in MFWP R2. Bears naturally rub against objects such as trees, power poles, and fence poles, leavingbehind hair samples. By creating a detailed NCDE genetic database from these hair samples, bear managers can better understand grizzly bear movement throughout MFWP R-2.During an early April track survey a large set of grizzly tracks were cut and followed to a barbed wire fence where the bear crossed. Luckily a hair sample was caught in a barb and collected for DNA analysis. A motion camera was set up in the area and a photo of the bear was captured a couple days later.

The carcass pick-up and removal program has been successful at reducing human-bear conflicts throughout MFWP R2. Ranchers and landowners are urged to call the local bear manager to arrange for pick-up and removal of livestock carcasses, which have proven to reduce human-bear conflicts. In the Blackfoot Valley a compost site accommodates livestock and wildlife carcasses inside of a bear resistant electric fence.

There is continued work with Don Felstet and Felstet Disposal to develop bear resistant garbage containers that are being placed throughout the lower Clark Fork River region. Previous work included creating a fully automated 300 gallon bear resistant container that has been approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) testing protocol at the Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. This season we continued working on a 95-gallon container that has been through testing and is back at the shop for some changes. There are plans for it to be re-tested in the spring of 2013.
One of the most important aspects of bear management work is the continued promotion of bear aware information and education. Throughout the 2012 season multiple bear aware presentations were held for a wide variety of audiences including the Montana Conservation Corps, Missoula Smokejumpers, the Bureau of Land Management, and multiple school classrooms throughout R2. An educational table with a variety of informational brochures was provided for the annual Hellgate Hunters and Anglers banquet.
Hanging educational signs is another component of the pro-active bear management process. Some of the signs help hunters know the difference between black and grizzly bears or for safety concerns others may indicate that there is a bear management trapping effort in the area. In some neighborhoods and campgrounds educational signs are a reminder to keep attractants away from bears to help reduce human-bear conflicts.

The Author
Once again, a BIG thanks to Hellgate Hunters and Anglers for their support of bear management in MFWP R2. Research trapping, responding to bear complaints and maintaining grizzly bear, black bear and bear conflict response data is vital to a healthy population of grizzly bears in R2. Without their support, this vital work would not have been possible.

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