Growing Montana Bear Population Spotlights Need for Wildlife Corridors

"Residents are finding creative, community-based solutions to mitigate harm".

"One morning in late June, after a crisp mountain air had settled into Kootenai River valley, Megan Leach heard her chickens clucking nervously. She ventured outside to see the cause for the commotion and noticed that one of her heavy coops, on wheels but sturdy, had been moved. As dusk began to fall later that day, Leach rounded up her chickens to place them in the protection of her barn, feeling that something was watching them. It turned out to be a grizzly bear.

“The grizzly came out in the evening, as soon as it got cool enough … and basically started circling me while I'm trying to grab chickens and throw 'em in the barn,” Leach said. She eventually left the yard for the safety of her house. But the bear lingered.

It was collared, which showed that state researchers had previously captured the bear and placed a GPS device on it to track its movements and behavior. The next morning, she called local officials who specialize in bear-human conflicts. She learned that the three-year-old bear had also raided her neighbor's chicken coops and had done the same a year prior in the city of Whitefish an hour east of Leach’s farm. Given the bear’s affinity for chickens and lack of concern over Leach’s presence, state Fish, Wildlife, and Parks officials decided to euthanize the animal the following day.

Leach knew wildlife came with the territory on a farm in rural western Montana. But the bear’s death pointed to a growing problem: Increasing development on the US Highway 2 corridor—a cross-country highway that cuts through the tip of Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem—is putting a strain on wildlife habitat and catalyzing a growing trend of human-wildlife encounters that put the animals at risk."

Victoria Traxler reports for Sierra magazine October 25, 2023.

Source: Sierra, 10/27/2023