Keeping tabs on Montanas grizzly bears

Jun 6, 2013

Field biologists measure and monitor a tranquilized grizzly in Glacier National Park in 2005.
Credit GlacierNPS / Flickr

Spring and fall are both prime times for biologists to trap grizzly bears. Wildlife officials are trapping the bears as part of a long-term bear monitoring project spanning across the northern continental divide ecosystem.

The NCDE stretches north of Missoula to the Canadian border and covers 7.8-million acres.

Carnivore Biologist John Waller with Glacier National Park said today they estimate the current grizzly bear population for northwest Montana at about 1,000 bears. Waller said this number comes from a population estimate established in 2004 from genetic sampling of bear hair snagged across the area.

“That one shot hair snag operation gave us an estimate of the size, and since then, every year since 2004, we’ve been collecting information that allows us to estimate population trend,” Waller said.

Information Waller and other scientists are collecting now includes how long the bears are living, where, and how many cubs the female grizzlies are having. Waller said the purpose of trapping, collaring, and following the bears is to keep tabs on the population.

The grizzly bear was first listed as a threatened species in 1975, but Waller says recovery goals for the bear are being met with bears living across the ecosystem, and reproducing effectively.

Last month the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft plan to manage the grizzly if bears living in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem are taken of the threatened species list. The USFWS is expected to propose delisting for the grizzly bear in this area of northwest Montana next year.

“This information is critical not only to initiate and proceed through the delisting process, but then after delisting it’s important to demonstrate to the public that we continue to have a recovered population, a healthy, vital population in this ecosystem,” Waller said.

The bear monitoring project is an interagency effort led by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and including the Park Service, Forest Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Blackfeet Nation.