Grizzly bears are a rare sight in the Bitterroot Valley, but last Saturday, October 27, a young male Grizzly bear was trapped at the Whitetail golf course east of Stevensville. Randy Hodgson, who works at the Golf Course, said they were aware of a bear out there for a couple of weeks.
“Nobody saw the bear,” said Hodgson. “It just started doing a little damage to some greens, breaking off flagpoles and stuff.” As the damage escalated, they finally contacted the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to try and get the bear relocated.
He said FWP placed a live trap out for a couple of nights and the morning after the second night there was a bear in the trap. He said Golf Pro Jason Lehtola approached the cage and heard aggressive growling and scratching.
“He went up close to take some pictures and then said ‘hey, the claws on that thing are as long as my fingers’,” said Hodgson. “He also said he saw a silver sheen to the bear’s coat and when he called FWP he said he had a bear, but that he thought it was a grizzly bear.”
Hodgson said that officials laughed at first, thinking it was a joke, but when they came out and saw it, they took it a bit more seriously. He said they took it to Missoula for examination.
Hodgson said that he shared photos of the bear with a couple of his friends and it has since gone viral on social media. He said that game cameras had been placed around the golf course to make sure there isn’t a brother or sister out there as well.
According to a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) press release, the young male grizzly bear was captured on Saturday, October 27 on the Whitetail golf course.
After receiving multiple reports of a bear extensively digging and causing damage to the golf course, wardens set a trap in response, expecting to capture a black bear. After trapping the bear early Saturday morning, however, it was confirmed to instead be a young 249-pound male grizzly.
“Through the years, several grizzly bears have been confirmed in the Sapphire Mountains and in the northwest portion of the Bitterroot Valley, including the Lolo Creek drainage, and as far south as the Big Hole Valley. Grizzly bears in the Bitterroot remain relatively uncommon, compared to other parts of northwest Montana, but there have been increasing reports in recent years,” states Information and Education program manager Vivica Crowser.
Northwest Montana’s Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) is the closest grizzly bear recovery zone with an established population of grizzlies. “The NCDE is not far away, and grizzly bears are expanding in several directions from there, slowly recolonizing historic ranges,” said James Jonkel, FWP Region 2 Bear Management Specialist.
The grizzly was relocated Sunday to the lower Blackfoot Valley, on the southern edge of the NCDE, in a spot previously identified as a good relocation area for bears.
This time of year, Jonkel added, it is common for bears to routinely follow drainages down into the rich valley bottoms, where food and water are more plentiful.
“Where the bear was captured along the river, foods like rosehip, snowberry and various forbs are attracting bears right now,” said Jonkel. “Therefore, it’s extra important to contain things that are under our control, like garbage and fruit trees, so that bears keep on moving to their natural foods and aren’t tempted to stay in our neighborhoods.”