Rash of grizzly bear deaths this year; car collisions on the rise

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Agrizzly bear cub has been held by The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Natural Resources Department wildlife program after its mother and two siblings were struck by a vehicle and killed recently. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

There have been a rash of grizzly bear deaths in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem already this year.

The NCDE is a broad swath of land, about 8 million acres that runs along the Continental Divide from Canada south to Ovando.

The latest death was an adult female grizzly bear that was found dead in the Spotted Bear area south of Hungry Horse Reservoir last week, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in a release.

The 16-year-old sow was captured in 2016 as part of a population trend monitoring program. FWP fitted the bear with a GPS radio collar, and the collar alerted agency personnel of the possible mortality. They were unable to determine how the bear died. The bear was badly decomposed.

So far this year, 27 grizzly bears have been removed from the Ecosystem due to a variety of circumstances, including management action, vehicle collisions, and augmentation. Bears are classified as being removed from the population if they die, are taken to an accredited zoo or facility if possible, or killed outside of natural deaths. One or two bears are annually targeted for relocation to the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem as part of an augmentation program.

A bear was recently moved to the Cabinet-Yaaks from an area north of Whitefish on state land.

Cars have been a big problem this year. So far, 13 have been considered killed by motor vehicles, including most a recently a sow and her two cubs near Ronan on Highway 93. A third cub was left orphaned in the collision.

There are about 1,000 grizzlies in the NCDE.

On average there are about 25 annual removals or deaths in the NCDE. The most dangerous time to be a bear is still coming up — hunting season is prime time for grizzly bear-human conflicts as hunters run into bears at close range, or are attacked when bears feed on carcasses or gut piles.

Bears can be extremely territorial around carcasses.

People hunting or recreating in bear country are urged to carry bear spray and make sure they keep a clean camp and secure food and garbage so bears can’t get at it.

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