Justine Vallieres: Dealing with “problem” bears

Sow grizzly bear spotted near Camas in northwestern Montana. - Montana FWP
Sow grizzly bear spotted near Camas in northwestern Montana. – Montana FWP

A heartfelt note from Justine Vallieres, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bear Manager for Region 1 (initially posted to Facebook) . . .

As many of you may now know, I ended up catching the sow and cub that had been breaking into cabins and garages in the Moose City/Trail Creek/Ford Cabin area. The decision to remove bears is always a hard and gut wrenching one, but with these bears there was sadly no other option. First off I want to say that no one in the North Fork was in the wrong in these conflicts. People did not leave out attractants; this bear was only breaking into enclosures so please be gentle with each other.

These situations drive me to do better as a bear specialist, to do more education, continue to build better and closer relationships with landowners and do as much preventative work as I can. Each bears death is not in vain, and as each passes I promise I’ll try harder, and try to do better. I’m grateful to the North Forkers for being able to live amongst the bears so well. Thank you for doing your part. My hope is that other communities will follow suit someday.

One thing I still ask is that you call me as soon as you experience any type of conflicts as the sooner I know about it the sooner I can try and get ahead of the problem so it doesn’t escalate beyond the point of no return. By not calling in conflicts it does the bears a huge disservice. So please call. I’m not here to pass judgement or shame you, I just want to help you and help the bears. Please don’t point fingers or shame each other if conflicts occur, especially in this instance no one did anything wrong. Unfortunately this bear was too far gone from her previous history and crossing boundaries by breaking into buildings. When I caught her at the beginning of August there was so implication that she was breaking into enclosures so things either escalated or people were not calling in conflicts.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions. Thank you.

Justine can be reached at justinevall8@gmail.com or 406-250-1265.


Fed bears; dead bears

Monica, June 8, 2020 - W. K. Walker
Monica, June 8, 2020 – W. K. Walker

The Flathead Beacon has a good article by Tristan Scott discussing the loss of Monica and her three cubs, as well as the general North Fork community issues surrounding living with wildlife. Both the NFLA and the NFPA get a mention . . .

Twenty years ago, new arrivals to the remote North Fork Flathead River community of Polebridge were likely to hear some version of the following when asking for directions — just head north and hang a right at the pile of bear scat.

Situated on the doorstep of Glacier National Park, which merges with the Bob Marshall Wilderness to create the largest intact natural ecosystem in the Northern Rockies, the North Fork’s resident grizzly bear population has historically outnumbered its year-round residents, as evidenced by the prominent distribution of scatological droppings along the area’s trails and roadways. Still, the human interlopers who do call this wild chunk of country home have, more or less, learned how to coexist with their mammalian neighbors, reaching an accord that just comes with the territory in bear country.

And yet in recent years, due in part to the increased visitation at Glacier National Park, whose western boundary is defined by the North Fork Flathead River, as well as the expansion of commercial services in and around the community of Polebridge — leading to the development of “work camps” to house a growing number of seasonal workers — human-wildlife conflicts have been on the rise.

Read more . . .

Joint NFLA/NFPA press release: Small Community Loses Grizzly Family

For Immediate Release: September 8, 2021
   Richard Hildner, NFLA President, richardhildner@icloud.com or
   Flannery Coats, NFPA President, flannery.e.coats@gmail.com

Small Community Loses Grizzly Family

Monica with three cubs, June 8, 2020 – W. K. Walker
Monica with three cubs, June 8, 2020 – W. K. Walker

Polebridge, Montana [September 8, 2021] – Bear #418, known to locals as Monica, was euthanized Saturday, September 4th along with her three female yearlings, after receiving a multitude of food rewards over the past week. Due to several incidents involving improper food and garbage storage within an eight-mile radius of the Polebridge townsite the bears were ultimately deemed food-conditioned. Monica had been a resident female grizzly bear in the North Fork Valley for 17 years.

In response, two local non-profits, the North Fork Landowners Association (nflandowners.org) and the North Fork Preservation Association (gravel.org), will be working together, along with agency partners, to help improve food and garbage storage in the area as well as to make financial aid resources from conservation organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife and Vital Ground more readily available to residents and business owners in the North Fork.

The North Fork community deeply grieves the loss of Monica and her cubs and in the coming months will explore new avenues to further educate and assist residents and visitors in how to live and recreate in bear country in a manner safe for both bears and humans.

Latest update on Monica and her three cubs

Monica in 2020

Tim Manley just posted an update to Facebook about Monica and her three cubs…

Just an update about this family group of grizzly bears.

I have been up the [North Fork] 3 times in the last 3 days and I will be up there again today.

In the past 5 days the female with 3 yearlings have gotten into two garbage cans two nights in a row. Those cans were replaced with working bear resistant Kodiak cans. The bears got into a trash trailer the next night and that has been replaced with a totally enclosed trailer. The next night they got into a pickup topper that had more than a camp stove. It had food and garbage in the truck. Last night they returned and tried to get into a different car with no garbage or food in it. They also went to another property and pushed on a trailer and were chased off by the landowner. They have been very persistent and not easy to get them to leave.

I am in the process of talking to landowners about a safe place to trap for this family group.

I am also reminding people to secure food and garbage in a way that these bears and others can’t get to it. Not in vehicles because unfortunately , this family group knows to check out cars.

Please notify me of any bear activity so I know where these and other bears are causing conflicts. Thanks.

My phone number is 250-1265 and email is Tim.manley@mt.gov

Latest bear update from Tim Manley

Bear Travel Map - May 28-30Here’s the latest North Fork bear information from Tim Manley, Grizzly Bear Management Specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It was posted to Facebook on Sunday, May 31…

The subadult male I released at the border went immediately west to Fortine. He got into garbage and bird feeders. He was recaptured and killed.

The two females I released in Whale Creek.. also went west to the Fortine, Trego, and Stryker areas. They are hanging around a few residences and getting bird feeders and maybe garbage. No trapping effort for them right now.

The adult male that was from Helmville and released in Coal Creek is now over southeast of Babb outside of Glacier Park. He was photographed near Trail Creek following the scraggly female. He then went into BC northeast of Starvation Peak. He was photographed at a rub tree with a remote camera by BC grizzly bear researchers. That was on May 28th. In the last two days he traveled 48 miles… into Alberta, east of Waterton Lake and then south and was last known to be on the Blackfeet Reservation southeast of Babb.

I attached a map so you can see his travels from May 28th to May 30th.

They rarely stay where we release them…

Bear update from Tim Manley

Momma grizzly and her cubsHere’s the latest North Fork bear information from Tim Manley, Grizzly Bear Management Specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It was posted to Facebook on Friday, May 22…

Good morning, I see there have been quite a few posts about bears on this page and other pages. I thought I would give a quick update on what I know.

The 2 female yearlings I released at Logging Cr on 4/27 were not collared. Regi got a remote camera photo of a yrlg in that area in mid May.

The 3 subadults I released on May 8th at Whale Cr and the border, are all over near Fortine and Trego.

The adult male from Helmville that was released in Coal Cr on May 8th has traveled a lot. Coal to Big to McGinnis to Apgar Range to Trout Lk to Dutch to Bowman Cr to Long Bow to Kintla Cr to Border Station to Trail Cr. I think he might be the one breeding the scraggly looking female that Dick Leigh photographed. UPDATE… the breeding pair Dick posted was from a few years ago.

The scraggly looking female had two 2-year olds that she had kicked off. She is not collared and has been seen a lot around Trail Cr and Tepee. Very distinctive.

Oattie is radio collared and just came south of the border. He has been seen and photographed around Trail Cr. We are going to try and trigger his collar to drop off… hopefully in Ogles yard.

There is an uncollared light colored female with two 2-year olds that has been seen and photographed in the Trail to Whale Cr areas. I think this could be the bear we called Betsy. Just a hunch.

There is a single uncollared bear that was seen around the Polebridge Bench for a while. I thought it was maybe Monica, until I got a report of a female grizzly with 3 small cubs in the Cyclone area. That is where Monica has denned in the past. She is not collared and I expected her to have cubs this year.

As part of the population trend monitoring program there are the following collared bears in the NFK.

A female with a 3 yr old that was still with her in Coal Cr.
A female with two 2-year olds in Big Cr.
A female with 3 new cubs in Hallowat.
A female with two yearlings in Dutch Cr

Again, sorry for the long post. I appreciate all the texts and photos that are posted and sent to me.
Have a good weekend!

Latest bear update from Tim Manley

Momma grizzly and her cubsHere’s the latest North Fork bear information from Tim Manley, Grizzly Bear Management Specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It was posted to Facebook on Saturday, May 9 at about 7am…

Bear update… good morning. Sorry for the long post… I just wanted to provide an update on bears. We will put out a press release but that might take several days.

Two days ago we captured three 3-year old grizzly bears along the NW edge of Swan Lk. This spring they had been bouncing around between Ferndale and Woods Bay. Our first reports were from last year when they were eating grass in yards. They were also in the fruit orchards and were seen at Yellow Bay and Finley Point along Flathead Lake.

A couple of weeks ago we got reports of them getting into unsecured garbage at Woods Bay. They also got bird seed and hummingbird feeders on porches. After several days of trapping we captured them.

My thought was to release them up Spotted Bear River. Due to snow on the roads we weren’t able to go down the reservoir or get to a release site up the Middle Fork.

After consulting with the FS and USFWS we decided to release them in the North Fork. Yesterday we released the two females (173 lbs and 222 lbs) in the Whale Cr drainage. We released the male (241 lbs) at the BC border. All three bears are wearing GPS collars. They haven’t been aggressive at all but definitely are used to being near residences. If they show up at your place, make them leave by safely yelling, banging pots and pans or any of the other approved methods that was in the recent NFLA newsletter.

Also yesterday, in the Blackfoot Valley, Wildlife Services captured two subadult male grizzly bears at a site where a calf had been killed. The first bear was released in Glacier Park at Logan Creek. The second male was released in Coal Cr up the North Fork last night by Jamie Jonkel with MT FWP out of Missoula. Both bears are also wearing GPS collars.

Snow conditions have really reduced our ability to access other relocation sites.

After I got back to the valley, the FS contacted me about a grizzly bear that had fed on and buried a deer carcass in the Big Cr Campground. I was able to contact Jonkel and he picked up the remains of the deer. The decision was made to have people move out of the campground for the weekend and close the gate. The bear will have a couple of nights to return and realize the deer carcass is gone and then move on.

The bear (Oattie) that used to spend time in the field south of Polebridge the last few years is currently 10 miles north of the border.

Lastly, I have not had any more recent reports of the single grizzly that had been observed on the Polebridge Bench.

I didn’t want to wait for the press release to notify you of our activities. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Here’s a video of the male being released at the border: https://www.facebook.com/tim.manley.319/videos/10221922988047890/

[Update on May 11] Just a quick update. I won’t be updating all the bears movements but I wanted to let you know generally where they are since being released. The subadult male we released at the border is now near Review Mountain. The two females we released in Whale Cr are near Center Mtn. and are still together. The male that Jonkel released in Coal Creek is now in Big Creek. Oattie is now 12 miles north in BC.