HELENA, Mont. — There have been a half-dozen encounters between grizzly bears and humans reported in Montana this month alone, a number experts attribute to a growing bear population stuck in the low country because of the deep snowpack.
Most of those encounters didn’t turn out well for the bears. Four times, the grizzlies were shot and killed.
Grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but their numbers have been growing in recent years, increasing the chance for encounters with humans, said Chris Servheen, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In addition, heavy snowfall this winter has taken longer to melt in cool spring weather.
“You have more bears, and then you have these high snow levels so the bears can’t be in the mountains where they want to be,” Servheen said.
Authorities were investigating the death of a grizzly sow shot near East Glacier sometime between May 7 and 12, after a nearby landowner complained that an adult bear and two cubs had killed a calf. Federal officials received a warrant to search the landowner’s home for the .22-caliber weapon that may have killed the bear, though no charges have been filed.
Soon after that carcass was discovered, a Ronan-area landowner shot and killed a female grizzly bear on May 14 that had been killing chickens. Wildlife officials with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes said the shooting was justifiable self-defense and that no charges would be filed.
That same weekend, an antler hunter shot and killed a sow grizzly in the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. State officials determined that also was justifiable self-defense.
And on May 10, a Fairfield-area rancher shot and killed a grizzly bear that was killing sheep in a pen near his Sun River home.
In the two non-fatal encounters, two hikers were mauled by a bear in the Gallatin National Forest when they came across a young grizzly bear and a sow chasing an elk. The 36-year-old woman tried to climb a tree when the sow bit her in the leg. The man was bitten in the forearm when he tried to fight off the bear.
Neither injury was life threatening.
On May 20, Salish and Kootenai tribal officials trapped and relocated a grizzly bear that had killed a chicken earlier east of Ronan.
Tribal officials said four grizzlies have been killed and six relocated from the Flathead Indian Reservation due to unprotected chicken coops or livestock.
Servheen said he didn’t consider the number of encounters to be unusual, but said it served as a good reminder for people to be bear aware and make noise and carry pepper spray while hiking.