ST. IGNATIUS — The Flathead Indian Reservation is homeland to a wide variety of wildlife including some awesome species like the grizzly bear. The wildlife and the rural reservation landscape is a recipe for human-wildlife interactions and quite often conflicts. Carnivores are the main wildlife concern that many folks living on the reservation have whether they reside in the rural or urban areas — conflicts have occurred in both types of locations with all kinds of wild critters.
Carnivores in the Mission Valley/Flathead Reservation include, the: grizzly bear, black bear, wolf, coyote, mountain lion and red fox. They were the subjects of three presentations last week at three reservation communities.
Kari Eneas, NRD Wildlife Biologist, and Bryce Andrews, People and Carnivores field director tag-teamed the presentation Living With Bears and Other Carnivores (on the Flathead Indian Reservation) at the community meetings. The grizzly bear soon bobbed to the top as the main focus of the presentation in St. Ignatius attended by approximately 20 people.
Andrews led off with a historical/evolutionary background of the grizzly that came to the Western Hemisphere via the Bering Strait land bridge created during the last Ice Age approximately 12,000 years ago that linked Eurasia and the Western Hemisphere from present day Siberia and Alaska.
Grizzly bears are omnivores that eat a variety of plants and meat. They forage for seeds, berries, roots and grasses. They will also hunt for deer elk, fish, insects and moths. When they emerge from hibernation in the spring, bears will be on the search for winter-killed carcasses scattered about the landscape, which provide them with valuable fuel to kick start the foraging season. Bears’ claws, which can be five inches long (longer than a human finger), make them excellent diggers. In the fall, during a period known as hyperphagia, bears prepare for hibernation again. They can spend up to 14 hours at a time eating and can gain up to three pounds each day during this period of intensive eating.
The grizzly has no escape instinct and will stand its ground when confronted as opposed to a black bear’s instinct to flea.
Grizzlies are able to live in a variety of habitats from dense forest to desert, tundra to alpine meadows, and coastlines, though they tend to prefer open areas and riparian zones where they can dig for roots and find other nutrient rich sources of food.
Montana is on the southern edge of the grizzly territorial habitat that extends from Alaska through the Canada Rockies into the Montana Rocky Mountains.
Andrews said the Flathead Reservation is an important corridor for grizzly bear south and westward migration. “This area is a potential source area for recharging the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho,” he said. The Frank Church Wilderness’ grizzly bear population has been severely depleted due to past management or lack of management and needs to be repopulated in that area.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have set aside Grizzly Bear Management areas on the Flathead Reservation. Eneas said the tribal people of the tribal confederacy, like many Indian tribal people, have a time immemorial cultural and spiritual affinity with bears, including the grizzly.
“The Mission Valley is home to a diverse wildlife population,” Eneas said. “Consequently there are a lot bear and wildlife conflicts but this place is healthy area for the grizzly thanks to the Tribes.”
Conflicts are related to small/large livestock predation and agricultural and residential attractants like garbage, gardens, fruit trees, animal food, animal compost, and bird feeders, among other things.
Eneas and Andrews both agree that the elimination or mitigation of attractants is the prime way to lessen human-bear conflicts. The two that popped to the top were related to residential and backcountry conflicts. Electric fencing has proved to be the most effective rural/urban deterrent, and bear spray the most effective backcountry deterrent for human-bear encounters. That’s very important for agricultural conflicts since bears are killed after two livestock predations.
Stacey Courville, NRD Wildlife Biologist recommended against using “shotgun pepper” to haze bears because it can cause septic shock and if shot in the eyes, blindness. He also recommended not using buckshot.
“In the last few years we’ve had to put down three bears because of shotgun injuries,” Courville said. “It’s amazing how many grizzlies we have encountered with buckshot in them.”
“Bears are really susceptible to infections,” Andrews said. That exacerbates any injury effects and infections can prove fatal.
“Bears can be shot for self-defense reasons but you have to call Fish and Game so they can inspect,” Eneas said. However, there is no legal take or killing of a grizzly bear. If a grizzly is caught in the act of pursuing or harassing livestock or pets, call dispatch immediately and Tribal managers will respond to safely and legally remove the animal.
The bottom line is to prevent potential bear or other wildlife problems or potential mortality people have to eliminate or mitigate attractions.
• To report bear problems contact CSKT Dispatch at (406) 675-4700.