Spring has sprung in Montana, and with the green grass and warm weather comes an often less welcome visitor to the Rocky Mountain Front and highline – the grizzly bear.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Wesley Sarmento, a calf depredation was first reported to him on May 6 from a producer on Dupuyer Creek west of Valier.
“I responded to the initial request for investigation and made the preliminary call that it was killed by grizzly bears, as the skull had been crushed by bite force,” Sarmento said. “There was still snow on the ground so tracking was good - it was obvious by the track measurements that a female grizzly and her youngster were involved with the depredation.”
Sarmento said he then called Mike Hoggan, a wildlife specialist for USDA Wildlife Services, who confirmed that the calf had been killed by a grizzly. By state law, USDA Wildlife Services makes the final determination whether livestock have been killed by predators and which predator is responsible. The two set capture equipment in hopes of catching the culprit before any more cattle were lost.
“We set a family culvert trap and four pipe set snares,” Sarmento commented.
The following day, Sarmento and Hoggan returned to the site to check the traps.
“We had captured a young male in the culvert trap and all of our pipe sets had been set off,” he said. “We thought that the young male could be the target female’s youngster, so we held him in the back of the family culvert to increase our chances of catching the female.”
The young male was tagged with two red ear tags, and the snares were reset to attempt to capture the female again.
In the meantime, another calf depredation was reported by a neighbor.
“We set a foot snare there (at the second depredation) as well,” Hoggan explained. “The herd had trampled all of the tracks so we couldn’t say for sure what bear killed this calf.”
Upon checking the traps the next morning, Sarmento and Hoggan discovered they had captured two more grizzlies in foot snares at the site of the first depredation.
“One bear was a female that had blue ear tags,” Sarmento said. “We captured her near Lake Frances last year.”
The female was transported and released to the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area west of Bynum since she was determined not to be involved in the depredations.
The second bear that was caught turned out to be the actual yearling cub of the target female.
“We needed to get this target yearling in the back of the family trap so we could increase our chance of capturing the female,” Sarmento said. “So with landowner permission, we released the non-target young male with red tags on site so we could move the target yearling into the family trap to capture the target female.”
Once the young grizzly was safely in the culvert trap, Hoggan set a foothold snare near the family trap to attempt to capture its mother.
After dealing with the two bears at the first depredation site, Sarmento and Hoggan traveled to the second site to check the snare, where they discovered an additional cow depredation and a two year old grizzly caught in a foot snare.
“The herd again trampled all the tracks, so we were unable to say which bear caused the depredation,” Sarmento said.
Sarmento and Hoggan determined that this two-year old bear could not have been involved in the cow depredation, as it had been caught in the snare the entire night.
The grizzly was tagged with green ear tags and transported to the Blackleaf WMA and released.
As predicted, that night the female returned to the depredation site to find her cub and was captured in the foot snare.
“According to FWP conflict records, this female was a yearling when she was involved in a sheep depredation back in 1997,” Sarmento explained. “Since she had only been caught on a depredation 22 years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Regional FWP leadership made the call to translocate her to the North Fork of the Flathead.”
Sarmento said she was fitted with a satellite collar, which transmits her bi-hourly locations every two days so they can monitor her closely.
“There have been no depredations since,” Sarmento said. “One of the landowners says his herd has calmed down greatly and feels the conflict is currently resolved.”
To report a conflict involving a grizzly bear, contact Sarmento at (406) 450-1097. To report a livestock depredation, contact Hoggan at (406) 289-0492.