Two sub-adult male grizzly bears were euthanized by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on Monday morning after they killed livestock over the weekend west of Stanford.
FWP bear managers also captured and relocated two young female grizzlies that were getting accustomed to being in people’s yards in northwest Montana’s Yaak Valley last week.
The two males near Stanford mark the farthest grizzly bears have been seen east of the Rocky Mountain Front in more than a century. Stanford is located in Judith County on the plains between the Highwood, Little Belt and Judith mountain ranges.
The two bears were siblings and had been seen south of the Missouri River, southeast of Great Falls, several times during the past few weeks. The bears killed four calves late Friday night or early Saturday morning. This was the first time the two bears had killed livestock.
When the depredation was reported, FWP and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services responded to capture the bears. One bear was caught in a snare. The other bear was darted in a field. Both were handed over to FWP. That agency’s officials proposed euthanizing the bears to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is the federal agency with oversight responsibilities for grizzly bears.
The two bears are part of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population, which is still listed on the Endangered Species List, though populations in the region have surpassed recovery goals set by the USFWS. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in and around Yellowstone National Park have been slated for delisting from the ESA next month.
Grizzly bears in the NCDE have been moving from the Rocky Mountain Front and onto the plains west of Great Falls for the past few years, with some bears pushing farther east each year. About 1,000 grizzlies are estimated to live in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Glacier National Park and the Mission Mountains and Rattlesnake Wilderness areas comprising the NCDE.
The bears were 2.5 years old and weighed a little less than 300 pounds each. As the public reported sightings of the bears over the past few weeks, FWP biologists and wardens visited with landowners and ranchers inquiring about conflicts and advising people to keep attractants out of the bears’ reach.
Last Thursday about 14 miles west of where the bears killed the four calves, FWP biologists set traps trying to capture the bears. The effort was unsuccessful as the two grizzlies moved farther east.
In the Yaak incident, a pair of sibling females had been grazing on new grass in people’s yards and raiding bird feeders. The bears were initially trapped in the Creston, British Columbia, vicinity on June 5 after approaching homes there. Canadian wildlife officials relocated them near the Montana border near the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, where U.S. authorities are trying to re-establish a grizzly population.
However, once the bears got in trouble again on June 20, British Columbia and Montana bear managers decided to split up the pair. One sow was released in the White Creek tributary of the St. Mary River in B.C., while the other was turned loose in a remote area northwest of Yaak. Both grizzlies were fitted with GPS tracking collars.