Vista Publishing



INCREASING GRIZZLY NUMBERS AND CONFLICT IN MONTANA HAS SET IN MOTION EFFORTS FROM MONTANA CITIZENS TO TRANSFER GRIZZLY POPULATION MANAGEMENT FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO THE STATE. Kudo’s to Montana citizens for their serious effort in taking a pro-active stance, making science based policies on predator management as opposed to emotional miss-management.

During the 1990’s and early 2000’s there was a great push by groups and individuals concerned about the welfare or grizzlies to list grizzlies as an endangered species. By 2008 they were listed as endangered and protection measures were put into place to encourage population growth including stopping all hunting of grizzlies in Canada (except the Yukon, I belive) and all USA States. Many ranchers, outfitters, hunters, and local citizens from the Alberta foothills to residents of the Kootenay’s to Northern BC, complained bitterly that not only were grizzlies not threatened in these areas, but, in fact, were increasing in numbers.  Their position was clear – that proper populations studies had not been conducted, that the decision was politically motivated, not science based.

And now, regardless of recent studies using DNA hair samples, trail cameras and cameras on bears, clearly presenting bear numbers in many areas doubling and even tripling, and startling realities of bear predation on calves(over 30 calves per month in some instances – see or for articles), no significant management of bears appears to be in motion. This includes areas where caribou, moose, and elk numbers have declined to the point that some caribou herds existence is considered threatened.


OR AT or


Valier cattle rancher Trina Bradley has had “all of the encounters with bears,” she says. When she was growing up near Dupuyer (population 93) her family found the animals digging in their vegetable garden, sitting on their front steps, climbing on their swing set. One of her brothers was chased by a grizzly when he was a teenager. Last year, another brother encountered them twice while working on his ranch.

Trina Bradley served on the Grizzly Bear Advisory Council convened by then- Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. She said apex predators should be managed just like other wildlife, and calls for more funding to help Rocky Mountiain Front agricultural producers avoid grizzly-related conflicts Credit: Courtesy Trina Bradley

“They’re everywhere,” she said. “My daughter didn’t get to play outside when she was little because it wasn’t safe. If I wasn’t out there with a gun in hand, she could not play outside.”

Like her father before her, Bradley has given voice to the predation-related concerns of agricultural producers living along the Rocky Mountain Front, a wild landscape formed by the 10,000-foot peaks of the Northern Rockies dropping into the high plains. As executive director of the Rocky Mountain Front Ranchlands Group and chair of a Montana Stockgrowers Association subcommittee on endangered species, much of Bradley’s work these days involves predator management.

There’s a difference, Bradley said, between wild bears and habituated bears — grizzlies that have become so accustomed to human presence they no longer fear and therefore avoid people. 

“Because they were so mismanaged for so long, we have a lot of bears that shouldn’t be here,” she said. “Because they weren’t removed, now there are generations of high-conflict bears on the landscape.”

She said she would like the state to take over grizzly management and use a firmer hand to discourage the animals from living so close to people, particularly as their range stretches ever farther into the sparsely populated — and largely privately owned — plains of central Montana. It shouldn’t be acceptable for bears to be in and among her and her neighbors’ buildings and outbuildings, she said, noting that a grizzly can do considerable damage to an agricultural producer’s property by feeding on their crops — peas, barley, chickpeas — or digging up natural food sources like wild onions and gophers.

This graphic from the U.S. Geological Survey and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks demonstrates grizzly expansion into central Montana in recent years.

As Bradley sees it, the Rocky Mountain Front is saturated with grizzlies, and has been for some time. While she and her husband have strung an electric fence around their chicken coop, adjusted how and when they turn calves out in the spring, and modified their summer pasture rotation to avoid run-ins with bears, they remain an ever-present issue. 

“For us, grizzlies are 24-7 neighbors,” she wrote in a September column published in the Choteau Acantha. “The stress of living with an apex predator affects us every day of the year.”

In 2019 and 2020, Bradley served on the Grizzly Bear Advisory Committee convened by then-Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, which she described as “an awesome and frustrating” experience. Overall, she said, she’s pleased that many of the committee’s recommendations are reflected in the draft plan FWP released for public comment in December, but there are a handful of things she’d like the department to change or clarify.

Bradley is emphatic that grizzly bears’ position in the food chain shouldn’t lead people to manage them any differently than other wildlife. 

“People don’t see grizzly bears and wolves as wildlife — they see them as some magical unicorn, and they’re not that,” she said. “They’re just animals that live on the planet that need to be managed so people can live here, too.”

Successful management, Bradley said, won’t arise from single solution. It isn’t just a matter of putting up electric fences and removing carcasses, nor is bear conflict a problem that can be fixed with deterrents such as livestock guardian dogs or noise cannons alone. “All of them are important,” she said. “All of them need to be utilized.”

Bottom of Form

Bradley said policy makers should commit public funds to Front residents to deploy such tools, particularly given how much habitat agricultural lands provide for grizzlies and other wildlife. “The financial burden needs to be spread more fairly,” she wrote in the Acantha column. “Right now, Montana livestock producers, management agencies and conservationists are trying to raise public funds to get more of these tools on the ground, but there is always a need for more.”

“People don’t see grizzly bears and wolves as wildlife — they see them as some magical unicorn, and they’re not that.”


Bradley supports a grizzly bear hunting season. It could give sportsmen and sportswomen who might otherwise be indifferent to — or even opposed to — grizzly bears’ presence in Montana a “dog in the fight,” she said. “That would bring in a whole ’nother demographic that would support conservation of grizzly bears.” 

Hunting is one of the most controversial pieces of the plan. A 2020 survey found that 49% of Montanans support enough hunting to manage for a population target, while 17% said grizzlies should never be hunted. Tribes across Montana, including the Crow, Blackfeet, Northern Cheyenne and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, signed a 2018 letter opposing Wyoming’s proposal to establish a grizzly hunting season when the U.S. egovernment last attempted to delist Yellowstone grizzlies. (That effort was ultimately blocked in fed CreCredit: Courtesy of University of Montana Human Dimensions Lab.

Bradley also said she’d appreciate firm population targets, which the draft plan doesn’t include. Bradley acknowledged that putting defined population targets in writing would probably make FWP vulnerable to pushback, but said she personally would find reassurance in the certainty of a number. 

“FWP does not outline how they will CONTROL the growing population, or at what point they will decide the landscape is full,” she wrote in her comments on the plan. “I need to know that we aren’t just going to let bears completely overrun the landscape, or expand into areas they don’t need to be.”

“There’s a carrying capacity and the biologists already know what that carrying capacity is, so it would be pretty easy for them to put a number on that,” she said.



Prior to becoming the executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association in 2004, Mac Minard spent 22 years working as a fisheries biologist in Alaska, the only state with more grizzlies than Montana.

One day, while conducting research for his undergraduate degree in wildlife management and research, Minard counted 37 brown bears on a single Alaskan stream. (Though they’re technically the same species, wildlife managers consider grizzlies to be a smaller, inland subspecies of brown bear.) Two decades later, Minard’s colleagues at the Alaska Fish and Game Department participated in the state’s response to the deaths of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Hugenard. Treadwell, who’d written “Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska,” had been killed by the bears he’d been documenting for years. Minard also remembers an early 1990s incident when a female brown bear and her three cubs peered into his basement window as he watched TV with his daughter, who was about 2 at the time.

“I thought, well we can’t have that, so we go out and do some adverse conditioning,” he said. “[I went] out and put a load of bird shot in the bear’s butt and she decided this isn’t a place to hang out with her cubs.”

Adverse conditioning to discourage grizzlies from becoming too accustomed to human presence is one of the benefits Minard sees in hunting them. Helping wildlife managers reduce grizzly populations in places that exceed “sustainable biological objectives” is another, he said. He also said that, based on what he’s seen in Alaska, he anticipates public demand for grizzly hunts in Montana.

Minard, who now lives in Helena, said he has faith in the state’s ability to successfully and sustainably manage grizzlies, and generally supports natural resource management at the state, rather than federal, level. The federal government uses a “broad brush” in its management approach, he said, and is limited in its ability to take into account the multitude of values surrounding grizzlies. 

“The federal management approach is only one way — it’s either on or it’s off,” he said. “With a state-managed solution, you look at a responsive commission to take into account the divergent social values that are placed on grizzlies and [tailor] regulations to accommodate those interests.”

“Bears are incredibly resilient,” Minard added. “I suspect that they are going to find a way to propagate and move around. They’re omnivores that can inhabit all kinds of different habitat types.”

Minard first spoke to MTFP a week before the federal government’s Feb. 3 announcement that it found sufficient merit in petitions submitted by Montana and Wyoming to delist NCDE and Yellowstone grizzlies. That announcement started a yearlong process for USFWS to explore the status of grizzly bears and the regulatory conditions in the three states — Montana, Wyoming and Idaho — that support grizzly populations.

“Bears are incredibly resilient. … I suspect that they are going to find a way to propagate and move around. They’re omnivores that can inhabit all kinds of different habitat types.”


It’s not the first time USFWS has pursued a delisting action: The agency attempted to delist Yellowstone grizzlies in 2017 but was blocked in federal court after environmental groups, the Crow Tribe and others sued to restore protections. The agency failed to account for how delisting of Yellowstone grizzlies would affect the recovery of other Northern Rockies grizzlies, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found. The same court also blocked a 2007 Yellowstone grizzly delisting attempt, finding that evidence did not support the federal government’s conclusion that the loss of white bark pine (a food source for the bears and itself now a listed species) would not threaten grizzly recovery.

Minard alluded to that push-pull dynamic in his Jan. 31 conversation with MTFP. He said grizzly bear delisting is going to take time. It’s something he takes “a long view on,” he said.

“At some point, the political moon and sun and stars will align, the bear will be delisted and there will be some sort of hunting season established,” he said. “Life will go on and we will be able to chalk this up as a successful conservation effort.”


Related Posts