A male grizzly bear captured last fall near Gold Creek and relocated in the vicinity of the Scapegoat Wilderness wandered back to the region in recent weeks and turned up at a chicken coop near Drummond.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks set a live trap in Edwards Gulch on April 20 to try for another capture of the GPS-collared grizzly. But he wandered off.
James Jonkel, a wildlife management specialist for FWP, said the bear has been “bouncing around in the east Garnets.” He said the bear, which FWP workers named Lingenpolter in the fall, occasionally ambles down to Interstate 90, apparently to consume road kill.
The grizzly is believed to be 4 or 5 years old and to weigh between 350 and 370 pounds. He got into trouble in Gold Creek by dining on domestic ducks.
Jonkel and FWP colleague Rory Trimbo, a grizzly bear specialist based in Anaconda, have said Lingenpolter is a harbinger of more grizzlies to come as bears disperse from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Many people who have long shared close habitat with grizzlies in those regions have learned to secure feed and seed and chickens to avoid human-bear interactions fraught with danger for both.
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Jonkel said grizzlies really seem to savor chickenfeed.
“It’s like prime rib,” he said.
Trimbo said FWP can consult with property owners in the region about how to secure bear attractants.
He said the landowners near Drummond were informed of options to wildlife-proof their yards. Keeping feed and garbage contained is an easy fix, and there are resources to separate domestic animals from wildlife.
The landowners were receptive to the idea of protecting their chickens from bears, Trimbo said.
“Lingenpolter's showed us a few people that are willing to work with us. So hopefully we'll build off of that and build some relationships in the area and work with people to do some preventative stuff,” he said.
Supported by government and conservation group programs, options include electric fences and even trained livestock guardian dogs.
These folks near Drummond just had chickens, however.
“So livestock guardian dogs might not be the most appropriate thing for them,” Trimbo said, “but electric fencing is definitely important.”
Because it’s not just about Lingenpolter.
He is one of only a few grizzlies who have been documented south of Interstate 90 in recent decades. But that seems destined to change, Trimbo said, a reality that makes bear-proofing even more important.
"He might not be the only bear that's coming around, and they're going to be coming down more in the future. It not only helps with grizzly bears, but these things work just the same with black bears," Trimbo said. “These bears show us places we can work with people to do some of this preventative work.”
Grizzly tracks and sightings were also reported near Avon in the last couple weeks, just 35 miles from Drummond.
Trimbo has been following the bear closely since it first got into trouble last fall.
After the bear’s release last year, it moved south for a time but then ended up denning north of Seeley Lake, Jonkel said.
To save batteries, the collars are shut off over the winter. When the collar went back on March 1, Lingenpolter was already active but still at his den—maybe just poking his head out, Trimbo said.
The radio collars aren’t as reliable as some people might think.
“A lot of people think we can tell exactly where a bear is at all times. They think it's real-time information. We wish it was that way, but it's not," Trimbo said.
The collars sometimes lose satellite signal, and Lingenpolter’s last location is a couple of days old.
Lingenpolter was Trimbo’s only grizzly his first year as specialist in Anaconda, and he’s admittedly attached. Over the winter, he kept hoping this wouldn’t happen. Now he’s watching Lingenpolter’s signal as close as ever.
"Fingers crossed he just goes and stays in the hills and never causes another problem," Trimbo said.
There will be a conversation in that event, Trimbo said, but the final decision will be made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.