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The Confluence Winter 2019/2020

From The Director To say that I have deep roots in the Swan Valley might be an understatement. I am one of the few people who can boast having been born in the valley, in the log home that my parents built and where they still reside today. I guess I haven’t migrated far, and eventually built my own house a few hills away using logs from the property and locally sourced wood. Many community members helped me build the house and loaned me tools or equipment. As a kid I grew up roaming the wild country and mosquito-filled marshes out the back door, before the advent of bear spray. As I grew, I branched out farther into more wild country and so did my knowledge of this special place and the animals that we share it with. I’ve been lucky to intimately explore our public lands, from the valley bottom to the high peaks of the Mission Mountains, Swan Range, and beyond. I’ve been bluff-charged by grizzlies, stalked by mountain lions, dive-bombed by goshawks, and howled at by wolves. I’ve tracked wolverines to moose and mountain goat carcasses and learned which hidden basins the elk bugle in every autumn. I have worked with some incredibly knowledgeable private landowners who share a similar passion for good stewardship of the land, and it has been a privilege to work together and learn from each other. These experiences have only deepened my respect and admiration for the people, animals, and land that create this truly remarkable place we all share. Conservation work has taken me across a wide spectrum of opportunities from a lowly field technician starting a career working on a variety of projects related to grizzlies, wolverines, lynx, fisher, goshawks, flammulated owls, woodpeckers, loons, waterfowl, westslope cutthroat, and more, to a Mission Mountains Wilderness ranger, to the Conservation Director at SVC. I’ve been fortunate to live and work in one of the last large intact ecosystems left on earth, a place that is a working landscape where the human community lives and works amongst some of the rarest animal species in the lower 48. I take great pride in my work here at SVC and hope that our conservation and education work will provide similar opportunities that I was afforded for future generations to enjoy, explore, and learn from. I want to conserve the rural, working landscape and all the human, plant, and animal communities that create this unique, one-of-a-kind place. Please help us celebrate a new year as we connect with some of the wildlife, our work, and what makes the Swan Valley so special in this issue.

Onwards and upwards,

Luke Lamar, Conservation Director

Swan Valley Connections 6887 MT Highway 83 Condon, MT 59826 p: (406) 754-3137 f: (406) 754-2965

Board Members Barbara Hill Raible, Chair Helene Michael, Vice Chair Alex Metcalf, Treasurer Larry Garlick Pam Hamilton Casey Ryan Mark Schiltz Mary Shaw Rich Thomason Scott Tomson

Emeritus Russ Abolt Anne Dahl Steve Ellis Neil Meyer

Advisory Board Kvande Anderson Jim Burchfield Andrea Stephens Mark Vander Meer

Staff Rebecca Ramsey, Executive Director Jonathan Bowler Laura Cannon Andrea DiNino Leanna Grubaugh Sara Halm Luke Lamar Mike Mayernik Rob Rich Uwe Schaefer The Confluence is published by Swan Valley Connections, a non-profit organization situated in Montana’s scenic Swan Valley. Our mission is to conserve the intact ecosystems within and surrounding the Swan Valley and to strengthen the connection between people and the natural world through collaboration and experiential learning. Images by Swan Valley Connections’ staff, students, or volunteers unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved to Swan Valley Connections. Change service requested. Cover Image: Ermine by Steven Gnam


Lynx on our Landscape By Rebecca Ramsey

Photo by Steven Gnam Swan Valley Connections (SVC) has been involved in forest carnivore monitoring partnerships with the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and The Nature Conservancy in Montana (TNC) for the past nine years. This month kicks off another monitoring season, with an emphasis this year on Canada lynx. The Southwest Crown of the Continent (SWC) is an area of approximately 1.5 million acres and encompasses Swan Lake (Flathead National Forest), Seeley Lake (Lolo National Forest), and Lincoln (Helena National Forest). This landscape is unique ecologically in that it retains most wildlife species that occurred during pre-European settlement. For a variety of reasons, research and monitoring of forest carnivores has been a priority across the SWC landscape since the late 1990s. Several separate but related forest carnivore projects have been completed or are in progress across the SWC landscape. SVC provides skilled technicians who know this landscape well and bring expertise in tracking rare carnivores, deploying hair snaring stations, and conducting winter field work in challenging conditions. 2020 marks the final year of a three-year project in partnership with RMRS focused on lynx and wolverine habitat use across the Western Montana wildfire complexes. The technicians systematically look for snow tracks of the target species, then backtrack the animals. Vegetation plots are conducted along the backtracks to provide data on site-specific habitat selection within the fire perimeter. In addition, field technicians collect genetic materials such as hair, feces, urine and vomit to send in for laboratory analysis. Genetic analysis of quality samples allows for determination of the species and gender as well as identification to the level of individual animal. This means we can track specific animals over time and have better estimates of the total number of individuals on the landscape and the number of males/females by species. Placed on the Endangered Species List in 2000 as threatened, the lynx are unlike other iconic endangered species such as the grizzly bear or wolf, who are habitat generalists, meaning that they can survive on an abundance of food options and can live and thrive in a multitude of habitat conditions. Grizzlies and wolves have captured the hearts and wallets of

funding sources for research and recovery in part because their generalist nature puts them in contact with humans as they prey upon livestock, domestic attractants, and trash. Lynx, on the other hand, have not received the abundance of funding or attention because they rarely come in contact with humans. Lynx are “specialist� predators. To understand the lynx, one must also understand the snowshoe hare, the nearly exclusive food source for lynx in the winter. If you look at the skeleton of the lynx and the hare, you’ll see they are quite similar: both with long legs, longer in the back for power to leap through the snow; light upper bodies; and huge feet with extra fur to act like snowshoes, keeping both predator and prey on top of the snowpack. Their habitat is restricted to boreal forests at elevations that receive deep, fluffy snow. Snowshoe hares primarily eat conifer needles, require cover, and prefer dense forest stands of young trees or mature spruce/subalpine fir stands where tree branches reach the ground. Dr. John Squires with the RMRS began lynx research in the SWC in 1998. At that time radio collars were put on captured lynx to allow for better understanding of habitat selection. Since that time, technological advances have led to GPS collars that communicate in real time with satellites. This increases location accuracy and exponentially increases the number of locations that can be collected over a given period of time. Based on past research and ongoing monitoring in the SWC, we know that lynx are most common in the Seeley Lake Ranger District and the least common in the Swan Ranger District. It is estimated that approximately 30 lynx live in this 1.5 million acres landscape. Because of their higher elevation habitat and low density occurrence, lynx are rarely seen by humans. If encountered, lynx are non-threatening and generally tolerant of people, which often allows the lucky observer a good look at a very rare species. Lynx are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. They are an indicator species of change on the landscape, whether that is climate change, change in land ownership and use, or other changes in habitat; researchers have much to learn by studying them. Through these ongoing monitoring and research efforts, we can continue learning about, appreciating, and protecting this incredible animal and our shared landscape may thrive into the future.


In Search of Grizzly Dens and Lost Data By Luke Lamar 06-16-19 Early this summer several colleagues, volunteers, and I had the pleasure of retrieving two grizzly bear collars that had been dropped near den sites high in the Mission Mountains and Swan Range. The first collar that we retrieved was from a female known as Sleeping Bear. She had been fitted with a GPS collar as part of Kari Eneas’ graduate student research project that is looking to quantify the effectiveness of electric fencing in mitigating conflicts between grizzlies and livestock producers in the Mission Valley. Sleeping Bear had spent the majority of the summer in a heavily populated area just east of Ronan. While some location data is sent via satellites while the bear wears the collar, much data is stored inside, which makes retrieving the collar an important step once it has fallen off. Sleeping Bear had retreated to the steep, high elevation slopes of the Mission Mountains Wilderness to den for the winter. [As often happens when bears emerge from hibernation and have lost considerable weight throughout the winter months, her collar no longer fit properly around her neck, and she was able to free herself from it.] Hearing about it from Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes bear biologists, I eagerly volunteered to hike into the middle of nowhere to retrieve the collar. Bears, as well as some other mammals, hibernate during the winter months as an adaptation to seasonal food shortages, low environmental temperatures, and snow cover on the ground. Grizzly bears typically excavate den sites on steep, north-facing, high elevation slopes in dry conifer stands near abundant, high-quality spring food sources and low road densities; they hibernate here for four to seven months. Grizzlies typically dig new dens each year and reuse of excavated dens is rare but does occasionally occur. Some bears excavate dens long before hibernation, while others wait until the last minute. They usually den from October-early December until mid-March-early May. Bears are not true hibernators. Mammals considered true hibernators, such as ground squirrels, experience a drastic decrease in body temperature during hibernation. Body temperatures for bears remain relatively similar, with only a slight decrease. Due to highly insulating pelts, fat reserves, insulated dens, and a lower surface-area-to-mass ratio than smaller hibernators, body heat is lost slowly which enables them to cut their metabolic rate by 50-60 percent. Respiration and heart rates decrease as well. Amazingly, bears do not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate during hibernation and recycle their metabolic waste instead. The urea produced from fat metabolism, which is normally fatal at high levels, is broken down and the resulting nitrogen is used by the bear to build protein, which allows them to maintain muscle mass and organ tissues. Bears may lose 15-30 percent of their body weight during their long winter nap. After hiking for half the day to near the crest of the Mission Mountains, we found ourselves at the base of a narrow avalanche chute that led up a ridge. Based on the GPS data,


the collar was above us somewhere in a series of narrow, steep chutes. I was thankful that the slope was melted out, as we wouldn’t have been able to ascend otherwise without crampons and an ice axe.

Ascending the steep avalanche slope As we climbed, I found a shallow spot that was dug out of the mountainside. The dig didn’t go back into the earth, but it did have a patch of dried bear grass, which is common for grizzlies to line their dens with for bedding material. It appeared that a bear might have tried to dig a den, but abandoned the idea for whatever reason, or that it had been used two winters ago and maybe had collapsed in, which is also common. We continued up the avalanche chute that then divided into several smaller, narrow chutes and cliff outcrops. We all spread out, taking different routes as we approached where the collar was supposed to be. As we neared the location, we found several spots where a bear had excavated small areas, seemingly testing the soil for a spot suitable to dig a deeper den. We almost lost Rob, who hurdled down the steep slope head over heels for a couple of somersaults, but luckily was unharmed. After negotiating around several small cliff bands and chutes, we found the collar in thicket of subalpine fir, several

feet away from the GPS location we had been given. We all gathered around to rejoice in finding the backcountry Easter egg and snapped a few group photos. Above the collar location we found a huge dug out area. It looked as though an excavator had pulled dirt from the earth in a spot about 15 feet long and five to ten feet wide and flattened the site. Having never found a grizzly bear den before, we all pondered whether it was the actual den site or not, since it didn’t have a roof and wasn’t dug back into the hillside. We made some observations, trying to piece the scene and story together. There was a downed whitebark pine snag that partially covered the excavation. It is possible that the area receives windblown snow and that the bear dug the site late in the fall into a drift of snow, which would make an earthen roof unnecessary. Either way, we could tell the site was definitely used last winter and had no bear grass for bedding in it, although there was a pile of inch-diameter sticks and branches. Several trees adjacent to the site had been chewed on. We also noticed numerous clumps of bear hair, meaning the bear had spent a lot of time there. We wondered if the collar had popped off there and had been washed down the chute in an avalanche. The views looking westward were spectacular, a good place to wake up in the spring. We were all pretty tired by the time we reached the trailhead late in the evening after 12 hours of hiking, but we left feeling satisfied by a great adventure. 06-29-19 A couple weeks later a group of us went to find another grizzly bear collar. The collar had been shed by a male bear named Trapper, who had been caught as a yearling in a bobcat trap on December 10th the previous fall. It had been quite an ordeal for the trapper as well as Fish, Wildlife, & Parks Grizzly Bear Management Specialist Tim Manley, who had to drug and release the bear as his mom and two siblings hung out nearby. Trapper’s foot had been injured a little bit, so Tim put a collar on the bear to find out if he lived or not. We ascended a peak atop the Swan Range en route

to Trapper’s collar, which happened to be the 100th peak I’ve climbed! I am truly lucky to have experienced and observed all the wild country that I have wandered. I don’t know if I’ll make it to 200 peaks or not, but it’s interesting to reflect back on my love of nature and how it all started. For me, it began with my parents taking me out and encouraging me to explore the wonders of the woods, and I’m grateful for how those early days have shaped my life. As I stared at the surrounding peaks and places that I’ve explored, and in some cases have gotten to know intimately, I realized that it has been more than just seeing and exploring those places; it has been as much or more about discovering my own self and capabilities, with each place rubbing off into my own nature. As we all took a break on the peak, we spotted a big, fat black bear feeding along the crest of the bowl to the north of us. We watched him the entire time we were there as he fed his way along the ridge across from us. From the peak, we descended a wide avalanche chute and worked our way to the GPS location we had been given, but couldn’t locate the collar. We again worked the receiver and the signal took us at least a quarter mile downhill to where we found a bear den tucked in a patch of subalpine fir on a southwest aspect. We all gathered at the den and peered into the hole that tunneled back into the earth and could see the collar inside! There was a large throw mound of dirt and a cavity dug into the slope large enough to fit two or three of us inside. The tunnel was excavated about ten feet back into the earth, several trees around the site had been chewed on and had scratch marks, and there were a couple piles of scat around the den site. The entrance was just large enough for each of us to squeeze through, and we all took turns wiggling into the den. There was a little beargrass inside, but not much, and no lasting odor that I could tell. I was glad that we didn’t find Trapper dead, as there had been some uncertainty if he would survive with his injured foot. The dropped collar in the empty den was quite the sight and made the day even more special.


What Happens When the Elk Crosses the Road? By Rob Rich The young driver was not hurt. At least not physically. She had only looked down for a second as her check engine light came on and, in that moment, her Jeep hit the elk. Hitting the 600-pound animal at 70 miles per hour, the light – and the animal’s life – flickered out. Jonathan, Laura, and I got word of the accident, printed off a Vehicle-Killed Wildlife Salvage Permit from the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website, and within 30 minutes from impact, there we were, staring at the cow in the borrow ditch where she’d stumbled to die. She was large and healthy for March 25. It had been an erratic winter with late heavy snows, and she had made it through. Light thermals rose in the blue sky, and the sun’s warmth near the pavement had greened the first grass. This very elk had likely passed through this very place, for years, to glean the new growth. Elk in Montana’s Swan Valley migrate up and down the mountains, following snowmelt to summer in subalpine meadows, and snowfall to winter in the valley bottom. As spring arrives, cow elk form loose herds, following paths learned from their mothers, who followed paths learned from their mothers. Bisecting foraging habitats to the east and west, Highway 83 blocks a multi-generation journey that some elk never complete.

Elk crossing the highway in Paradise Valley, MT. Photo by Andrea DiNino


As we began processing the animal, that was the part that was painful – not that she died, but that she died that way. With road rash that sheared off her two-layered winter coat, weeks before it would naturally shed. With shinbone shards that crunched as we heaved her steaming body into the pickup. And most of all, with the young male fetus we found within her – still hairless, still linked with umbilical cord, still forming hooves that were yellow and soft as butter. Still. It was hard enough to see a vehicle deny a worthy was harder to see a vehicle deny a birth, one that could’ve come the first week of June.

“Vehicle-wildlife collisions kill people too, about 200 of us nationwide, every year.” But of course, this collision wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. A 2018 report from the State Farm Insurance Company ranked Montana second in the United States for highest rates of statewide wildlife collision, with 1 in 57 people killing deer with cars. Vehicle-wildlife collisions kill people too, about 200 of us nationwide, every year. And as a frequent bike commuter who’s familiar with the palpable whoosh of a log truck rolling by, I’ve gathered plenty of evidence that deer and elk aren’t the only victims. Bears, birds, beavers, toads, squirrels, snakes, turtles, dragonflies, butterflies…are also on this endless list. Although I’m collision-free so far, I know I’m responsible. These collisions are part of the moral, ecological, and economic price I pay for living my road-centric life in a wild place. But I try my best to lower these costs by wearing a seat belt, heeding signs, slowing the heck down, and most of all: by paying attention. Here at SVC, I love nothing more than working with naturalists who take their curiosities everywhere, including the driver’s seat, asking questions like: Whose habitat am I driving through? Who might be feeding or moving nearby? What’s happening seasonally and what’s going on with the weather? And while collisions like this one seem helpless, I find promise in the growing, prevention-based focus on wildlife habitat connectivity and the diversity of programs now working to document and reduce this problem. I feel especially fortunate to live in a state with a Vehicle-Killed Roadside Salvage Program, because nothing could’ve helped me process a sad situation better than honoring the lives of those two elk with friends. We found hope in preventing further collisions with scavengers like bears, coyotes, and eagles, and in sharing a quarter with the young driver and her grandfather, who will never see elk the same way again. What happens when the elk crosses the road is not inevitable. It is a question, asked each time we get behind the wheel.

Bringing Home My First Deer By Laura Cannon At previous times in my life, I have found it difficult to consider the act of hunting as a way to connect with wildlife, but in hindsight, there really is no better way. Put frankly, learning an animal’s behavior so well that I may get close enough to take its life, and then consume it, is really the ultimate connection. Before I had this realization, I pulled the trigger of my rifle on a four by four whitetail buck who stood only 25 yards from me. Nervous and shaky, my thought when I saw him through my scope was, “He is so close. If you’re not going to take this shot, then there will be no better chance. You might as well just quit for the season.” So, I shot. And through my scope, I watched him run away. I instantly thought, “What have I just done?!” I learned the short answer to that question, after a few tears and a hesitant march to see where he went, was that I landed a kill shot on my buck, and he dropped about 100 yards from where we met, passing away rather quickly. Whew! The long answer came after I had time to reflect on all that I had experienced. So, what had I just done? I hiked many miles, catching the last phenological changes of the fall season. I saw the western larch, in all their golden glory, transition to bare skeletons as their soft needles rained down with the breeze. I saw the first snow in the areas where I was hunting, which brought a whole new realization of whose home I was tromping through. I followed the route of some very busy wolves, a large grizzly bear, and crossed over countless snowshoe hare highways, red squirrel feeding frenzies, and trails made by dozens of deer and elk. By way of the hikes, I visited many places that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There are so many unique places to stumble upon, from western red cedar groves to dry ponderosa pine forests, and that there’s a variety of stories left on the landscape from random large boulders placed by the glaciers that shaped this place, to piles of small, rounded pebbles, deposited the last time a flood passed through. I sat for many hours, where my silence was replaced by a forest coming to life. Ravens and bald eagles patrolled above me, searching for the remnants of a successful hunt. Red squirrels jumped from tree to tree, sometimes barking at me, but occasionally going about their business digging up and feasting on their reserves. On several occasions, gray jays followed each other from limb to limb, and always seemed to get just close enough to see who I was. The archaeology nerd in me can’t help but point out one other thing I had done. I engaged in an act that has been the most common thread between us and wildlife for around the last 10,000 years. From hunting the large and now extinct latePleistocene megafauna like mammoths and camels with spear points, to the transition several thousand years later of hunting smaller mammals like rabbits and deer, to a specialization in hunting bison with bow and arrow technology, to today’s recreational hunts with scopes and rifles capable of delivering an extremely precise kill shot, one thing is clear: people continue to be called to engage in this type of connection. I think the biggest takeaway for me this season is that

everyone can do it, with or without a rifle. Take that walk in the direction that is calling to you. Take note of all that changes from day to day. Sit silently until others accept you as part of the landscape. Take in the fact that even just a whitetail deer, the most common ungulate across North America is swift, elegant, and regal. You will always come away with a new lesson or experience to reflect on, and if you feel like it, you can take home enough locally grown meat to fill the freezer.


Swan Valley Bear News:

the story of windfall, her cubs, and lessons learned By Tim Manley, Grizzly Bear Management Specialist, Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks Windfall was first captured in 2017 by Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks personnel, while they were catching and radiocollaring grizzly bears as part of the Population Trend Monitoring Program. Her name came from the drainage in the Swan Valley where she was caught and radio-collared. Her estimated age at capture was five years old, and she was fitted with a GPS collar that acquired her location every 3.5 hours. During the 2017 field season, she spent quite a bit of time in the Swan Valley and was not known to have caused any conflicts. In 2018, after emerging from her den, Windfall was observed with one cub of the year. Later that spring her cub was not observed with her, and she was seen near another adult grizzly bear. The trend project continued to obtain GPS downloads from her radio collar, and there was no indication at that time that she was causing any conflicts. During the fall of 2018, we started to receive reports of bears getting into garbage north of Condon. In coordination with Swan Valley Bear Resources, efforts were made to secure the trash and remote cameras were set up and got photos of a very large adult male grizzly bear who was tipping over a dumpster. There were also reports of a grizzly bear getting into garbage in the Charles Road area. At that time, we didn’t know if we were dealing with just the one large male or multiple bears. Traps were set at two different sites, but no captures occurred. In 2019 we began getting a few reports of a female grizzly bear with three small cubs who were seen near homes in the Condon area. To ensure the bears would not become habituated, we told residents to make sure attractants were secured and to yell and bang pots and pans to make the family group leave the area. On July 22nd I received a call from a man who had a family group of grizzly bears get into some food that had been stored in a shed that partially collapsed and became exposed to the weather. The landowner had cleaned up the food but was concerned the bears would return. Some of the food needed to be hauled away, which I did in addition to setting a trap on the property. As it turned out, the female grizzly we now knew as Windfall had dropped her radio collar a week earlier, so her movements were unknown. A short time after setting the trap, an adult female grizzly bear was captured, and the remote camera indicated there were also at least two small cubs present. We took the captured grizzly bear to the Swan Valley Connections office to get some help with drugging, collaring, and putting the grizzly bear back into the trap. The captured grizzly bear was Windfall, based on the microchip reading that we got while radio-collaring her. Since she was a known bear, had the three new cubs with her, and the attractants had been secured or removed, the decision was made not to try and capture the cubs, and to release her on site with the permission of the landowner. She was fitted with a new GPS radio collar that would acquire locations every 30 minutes. This allowed us to keep closer tabs on her movements, but we could only download the data every other day.


Fitting Windfall with her new GPS collar at the SVC office. She quickly reunited with all three of her cubs, and we started to monitor her movements. Initially, she moved toward the Mission Mountains, but quickly returned to the valley. We started getting reports of a female with three cubs being seen often near houses and in yards. On August 7th we received a call from a resident near Condon Loop Road; she reported that a grizzly bear had entered her back porch early in the morning, and when she heard the noise and went into her kitchen, the bear had pushed open her door and its head was inside the kitchen door. She pushed the door shut, hitting the bear in the head. The bear instantly backed out and left. We immediately responded and set a trap, put up both a camera and a motion-activated noise maker (Critter Gitter) on the back porch. The bear showed up at the trap that night, and photos revealed it was Windfall and her three cubs, but none of the bears went into the trap. Following this incident, we received reports of a female with three cubs getting into unsecured dumpsters, garbage cans, and orchard trees at numerous locations around Condon. Swan Valley Bear Resources attempted to help some residents contain their attractants with bear-resistant garbage cans or electric fencing. Despite those efforts, the family group continued to visit residences and get food rewards. Due to the number of residents in some of these areas or being next to the highway, there weren’t any good options for attempting to capture the family group. We are always concerned about catching a cub and having the adult female become defensive. We had to select places to trap that were safe for both people and the bears.

On September 10th a landowner in Condon called and said a female grizzly with three cubs had broken into his barn and tack room to get into horse grain. The bears had tried to go through the outer wall of the tack room but then ended up opening the sliding barn doors and pushing open the door to the tack room. Based on the more remote location of this site, we decided to set traps at this residence. The adult female was captured the first night in one trap and one female cub was captured in the second trap. We moved the traps back into the woods and reset. We captured a second female cub that night. The third cub was at the traps but would not go in. We drugged the two cubs and put them in the front of the family trap and reset. The third cub continued to come to the traps but avoided going in for the next two nights and subsequently never returned. While we were attempting to capture the third cub, we spent time looking at Windfall’s GPS locations to determine where the bears had been visiting residences, including ones that may not have been reported. We then went to several of those locations to talk with landowners about their experiences with the bears. Unfortunately, the bears had been receiving many more uncontained human attractants than we had known about. As it turned out, people did not want to call us because they didn’t want anything bad to happen to the bears. We understood their concerns, but by not contacting us, the bears continued to cause conflicts, became more bold in trying to get food, and ultimately became food conditioned to human attractants. We discovered that they had gotten into a lot of garbage in unsecured containers, had gotten into several barns, outbuildings, and chicken coops to get livestock feed, had attempted to go into two different kitchens, and were causing conflicts more during daylight hours when people were active. Fortunately, when confronted by people they moved away, but having a family group spending so much time around residences and trying to get into structures, including occupied residences, the decision was made to euthanize the female and send the two female cubs to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. We decided to leave the third cub in the wild, unless it showed up and caused conflicts. We have found that grizzly bear cubs that are in good shape and orphaned after the first of September can survive in the wild and den for the winter. The third cub appeared to be more wary of people, and it avoided going into the culvert traps. We did receive one report in October of a single cub near a road-killed deer, close to where the family group had been captured. In hindsight, we hope the removal of these bears can be used as an educational opportunity about the importance of securing attractants to minimize human/grizzly bear conflicts and not have to remove grizzly bears in management actions. The two female cubs were safely transported to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, and they are adapting to their new surroundings. They will be allowed to go into an outside enclosure in the near future. Dealing with a situation like this is one of the hardest parts of our job. Removing healthy grizzly bears from the wild is not what we want to do. Preventing bears from getting into

conflict in the first place is what we strive for. If you have bearresistant dumpsters that are old or failing, contact Republic Services, and ask them to fix or replace them with good bearresistant dumpsters. Make sure your livestock and chicken feed are properly stored where bears can’t get access to them. Properly erected and maintained electric fencing is a great way to protect your poultry, livestock, and attractants. Contact Swan Valley Bear Resources for free bearresistant garbage cans, property consultations, or electric fencing services. Too often people wait until after a bear gets into unsecured feed to put it into a secure location. Don’t put out bird feeders when bears are active.(We used to say this was from April 1st to December 1st, but now we are seeing bears out from mid-March to late into December). Finally, if you are having conflicts with bears, please contact MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks to report the situation. The last thing we want to do is remove bears, but if the situation isn’t corrected, the bears will just get worse and our options become more and more limited. Contact Information: Grizzly bears – Tim Manley, 406-250-1265 Black bears – Erik Wenum, 406-250-0062 Kalispell Office MT FWP: 406-752-5501 Swan Valley Bear Resources: Luke Lamar, luke@svconnections. org 406-754-3137

Windfall’s two cubs who are now at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, MT


Re-Connecting with Wildlife By Jonathan Bowler “The brown white or grizly [sic] bear are found in the rocky mountains in the timbered parts of it or Westerly side but rarely; they are more common below the rocky Mountain on the borders of the plains where there are copses of brush and underwood near the watercouses [sic]. they are by no means as plenty on this [the western] side of the rocky mountains as on the other…” – Meriwether Lewis, 1806. The grizzly bear once roamed from Alaska to Mexico, from the Pacific coast far into the wild and productive Great Plains. Within a hundred years of Lewis’ observations, the grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, would be extirpated from the plains. By 1970, grizzlies in the contiguous United States were eliminated from 98% of their historic range, existing only in the rugged, remote wilderness of Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. In 1975, with an estimated remaining population of 600-800, grizzly bears were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Today, population estimates indicate that bear numbers have more than doubled across the six recovery ecosystems: The Bitterroot, the Greater Yellowstone, the North Cascades, the Selkirk, the Cabinet-Yaak, and the Northern Continental Divide. As grizzly bear populations increase so does their range of occupancy. Over the past decade or so bears have spread from the rugged and remote wilderness into areas that have not felt the footstep of grizzly bears for a hundred years. Human populations have also grown rapidly and the bears coming down from the mountains experience a landscape very different from those that knew it in the past. For both bears and humans there is much to be learned for this renewed relationship to succeed. In the spring of 2019, Governor Steve Bullock issued an executive order creating the Grizzly Bear Advisory Council (GBAC) to “develop recommendations for fundamental guidance and direction on key issues and challenges related to the conservation and management of grizzly bears in Montana, particularly those areas on which there is significant social disagreement.” Since October, we on the council have met monthly to learn from grizzly bear biologists and managers, receive input from the public, and work together in order to gain a mutual understanding of the issues, challenges, opportunities, and limitations related to grizzly bear management and conservation in Montana.


Historic and contemporary grizzly bear distribution in the United States.

The GBAC is seeking to gain an understanding of the attributes that contribute to the long-term preservation of grizzly bears; simply put, bears need biologically suitable and socially acceptable landscapes. As one of very few large mammals to have survived the mass extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene ice age and one that once inhabited most of North America, it is an easier task to identify biologically suitable landscapes than those that are socially acceptable. Often times it is said that “we don’t need to manage bears; we need to manage people” but this seems to be an oversimplification as we need to manage a relationship. Since 1975 this relationship has been regulated by the ESA. Over the past 45 years the question we face has shifted from “will grizzly bears continue to exist in the continental U.S.?” to “how will we coexist with grizzly bears?”. This, in itself, is a milestone but not an endpoint. Montana, through Governor Bullock’s executive order creating the GBAC, is leading the way in creating a dialogue about the relationship between humans and bears. This dialogue, however, does not belong to the council but to each of us individually. Each of us can play a part in the creation of socially acceptable landscapes by learning more about what it means to share a landscape with bears and what responsibilities come with it. We have shown an ability to completely eradicate bears from the landscape and we have shown an ability to reverse that trend. While we have been successful in avoiding the extinction of grizzlies in the continental U.S., our ability to coexist is just beginning to be addressed. To learn more about the Council’s work or contribute your comments, visit: gbac.html

Map showing exisiting distribution, verified observations and likely connectivity routes of grizzlies between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Welcome Back!

Sara Halm, Education Program Manager

“I feel back at home in the SVC office. Graduate school provided ample opportunity to look outside our little Valley and study the human dimensions of natural resource management and conservation at various scales and from multiple perspectives. I focused my research efforts on human-wildlife coexistence, specifically looking at how social, political, economic, and ecological systems influence living with wildlife. Using grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem as a case study, I interviewed rural residents in three distinct communities to better understand how they were impacted by grizzly bears, how they envision coexistence, and what the potential barriers and opportunities are to achieve coexistence. I plan to defend my thesis in April, and look forward to integrating these new experiences into our education programs.”

Montana Master Naturalist June 28 - July 3, 2020

Find out more at montana-master-naturalist (We would love to run an ad on MTPR for our Master Naturalist program; if you would be willing to sponsor it, please contact Thank you!)

concerned about your fir and pine trees dying from bark beetle infestations? We’re taking orders for beetle repellent to protect pine and fir trees. Cost is $25 for 10 MCH (for Douglas-fir) and $100 for 10 Verbenone (for Ponderosa & lodgepole pine). Must be ordered in packs of 10, with payment due upon order. We order in bulk to give you the best prices.

Order now through March 20th SVC is a licensed pesticide dealer & installer. We are now offering bubble cap installation service! Call us for details.

Place your order by calling 406-754-3137, by emailing, or online at

Special Thanks To photographer Steven Gnam for allowing us to use his incredible photos and for donating four images for us to sell as prints on our website! To order one, visit

It’s never too early to invest in the conservation and stewardship of one of the last truly wild places! Have a monthly impact by signing up to give here: 11


6887 MT Hwy 83 Condon, MT 59826-9005


upcoming events Jan 10 - Feb 24

Artist-Wilderness-Connection Application Open

Jan 18

Feb 29

Winter Naturalist Walk

Mar 4

Wildlife Tracks & Sign

Community Potluck Dinner Wetlands presentation by Steve Shelly

Feb 5

Wildlife Tracks & Sign

Community Potluck Dinner Mountain Caribou presentation by photographer Cory DeStein

Mar 14 Apr 1

Community Potluck Dinner SVBR Spring Bear Wake-up Social Photo by Steven Gnam

Profile for Swan Valley Connections

Winter 2019/2020 Newsletter  

Theme: Connecting to Wildlife

Winter 2019/2020 Newsletter  

Theme: Connecting to Wildlife