A summary of the October 18 bear meeting at Sondreson Hall

Photo by Pat Cole

A summary of the well-attended (at least 40-50 people) October 18 bear meeting at Sondreson Hall…

The presenters from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were Wildlife Management Specialist Erik Wenum of the Wildlife-Human Attack Response Team (WHART) and Justine Vallieres, Region 1 Bear Manager.

On October 1, a grizzly bear, apparently chasing a dog, encountered and mauled a woman at the “Bubble-Ups” near Trail Creek Road. Her husband drove it off with bear spray.

The next day, a dog went missing from a residence a few miles away from the Trail Creek incident. A neighbor’s photo showed the same bear in the yard. The dog never returned.

Another similar incident occurred on October 8 when a dog was attacked and killed at a cabin on Trail Creek Road. The owner shot at and injured the bear, which eventually retreated into the woods. Despite setting a trap and deploying a considerable array of cameras, FWP has seen no sign of the bear since it fled. Area residents were asked to keep an eye out for signs of scavenging activity, such as mobs of noisy birds.

Through DNA analysis, FWP determined that the same bear, a male at least 9 years old, was involved in all three incidents. The DNA data used for the match was from a hair sample obtained in Canada.

Both presenters pointed out that a grizzly bear deliberately attacking a dog is extremely unusual behavior. There have been a couple of incidents over the past few decades where a dog was killed accidentally because it was tethered between a grizzly and a food source, but neither had ever heard of an unprovoked attack.

About a month earlier, a man killed himself in the area near Tepee Lake. A bear discovered and consumed the better part of his remains. DNA analysis showed that this was not the same bear as the culprit in the Trail Creek incidents. It was a female grizzly that just happened to come across a food source. It is not a problem bear.

So, the female grizzly was just being a bear and is of little interest. If FWP happens to capture the aggressive Trail Creek bear, it will almost certainly be put down. There has been no sign of that bear since it was injured on October 8.

Incidentally, all this detective work is expensive. High priority DNA analysis costs FWP $1200 per sample.

A great deal of the general discussion covered items familiar to anyone who has been on the North Fork for any length of time: removing or securing bear attractants, being generally bear aware, and the importance of carrying and knowing how to use bear spray. One new item (to me, at least) was the importance of agitating bear spray periodically. Erik Wenum explained that the ingredients can separate out if the spray lays too long in one position. He likened it to storing unhomogenized peanut butter where the oil eventually rises to the top. He suggested at least shaking up your bear spray before you go someplace with it. Also, pay attention to the expiration date!

And perhaps the most important point: Justine asked that people not delay notifying her when they have a bear problem. The sooner she knows about it, the more likely it is that she can intervene without having to take drastic measures like putting the bear down.

Bear briefing at Sondreson Hall this Wednesday, Oct 18

Sondreson Community HallJustine Vallieres and Erik Wenum from FWP will be at the Community Hall this Wednesday, the 18th, at 1600. They will give an update on the recent bear incidents and to answer any questions from the community. All are welcome to attend. 

    If you cannot attend but have a question(s) you’d like addressed, please contact Mark Heaphy at 406-890-5043 or at m-mheaphy@hotmail.com

Woman injured in bear encounter north of Polebridge

Sow grizzly bear spotted near Camas in northwestern Montana. - Montana FWPHere’s the meat of the official Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks press release concerning last Sunday’s incident near the “Bubble Ups” along Trail Creek Road.

A woman was hospitalized in an encounter with a bear Sunday near the U.S.-Canada border north of Polebridge in Flathead County.

At about 3 p.m., Oct. 1, 2023, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks staff were notified that a woman was attacked along the bank of Trail Creek a few miles west of the North Fork Road. The A.L.E.R.T. air ambulance transported the 73-year-old victim to Logan Health Medical Center in Kalispell.

FWP wardens and bear specialists are actively investigating the incident and monitoring the site along Trail Creek known as the “Bubble ups” where the creek flows underground before rising to the surface. The site is closed while the investigation continues. The type of bear is unconfirmed at this time.

The victim was on national forestland with her husband and dog when the bear emerged from thick brush and attacked her. Her husband deployed bear spray and the bear moved away from the victim. They returned to their vehicle and drove to a location where they could call emergency services.

Area around “Bubble Ups” closed for investigation of bear attack

Sow grizzly bear spotted near Camas in northwestern Montana. - Montana FWPAn announcement from Mark Heaphy of the North Fork Patrol . . .

A bear attack occurred Sunday afternoon [October 1st] in the vicinity of the “bubble ups”; located about 5 miles west on Trail Creek road. The victim was ALERT flighted to Logan Health for treatment. FWP has closed the area for several days and is monitoring. Please do not enter the area. (Travel on Trail Creek Road is not restricted.)

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 . . .