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Grizzly bears killed on Highway 93

News from CSKT Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation

PABLO — Tribal bear biologists say that three of four members in a family group of grizzly bears were struck and killed by an automobile around 11 p.m. on Friday, July 27, approximately a mile south of Ronan. The collision included a marked female wearing a radio collar as well as two cubs of the year, one male and one female. The other member of this family group, a male cub was found in a tree the following day.  

The collision report indicated one vehicle was traveling south along Highway 93 when the female grizzly and her cubs came out of the ditch, close to each other, running directly in front of the car. According to the Montana Highway Patrol report, the accident was the result of wildlife entering the roadway at night with the driver unable to react and stop in time to avoid the collision. The driver and passenger suffered injury and the car was reported damaged. No further details are known on the condition of the driver and passenger. 

“The entire family group is functionally removed from the ecosystem,” said Stacy Courville, Tribal Bear Biologist, “… the remaining live club will not be able to live free on the landscape without its mother.”  

In late May of this year a cub was struck and killed north of St. Ignatius. This accident brings the total to four direct and one indirect vehicle-related grizzly bear deaths on this 13-mile stretch of Highway 93 in 2018; and brings the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem mortality numbers to 26, 12 of which are vehicle collisions.  

This particular female has been collecting data for the NCDE population trend study and on her movements around the Flathead Indian Reservation. Her collar was set to fall off, and biologists were planning to retrieve it and download the information.  

Grizzly bears in the Mission Valley are starting to disperse west of Highway 93. Courville thinks this is a good thing but the dispersal comes with dangers when encountering vehicles. “We’re seeing a lot more female bears with cubs crossing Highway 93. And they’re not using crossing structures,” says Courville.  Females are key to the species’ continued growth. In addition, he says these problems are not easy to fix. “The Tribes want bears on tribal lands. We’ve always wanted bears here and we actively work with local residents to remove conflicts,” Courville says.   

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Montana Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration have been working together for years in an effort to make the highway safer for the traveling public and to provide adequate and safe crossing locations for all wildlife species. 

Highway reconstruction is a large-scale project, crossing structures and other mitigation measures are costly, factors like land acquisition and wetland and stream crossings affect highway construction projects. Whisper Camel-Means, a CSKT Wildlife Biologist working on highway mitigation projects says, “We have effective crossing structures already built under and over Highway 93 on the Flathead Reservation, but this particular area has not been reconstructed and does not include crossing structures at this time. We hope to return to work on the remaining section of reconstruction from Ronan to Ninepipe soon and that the reconstruction plan includes adequate and appropriately sized crossing structures.”

“Grizzly bears (as well as black bears, deer, elk, mountain lions and bobcats), move at night across the Mission Valley. Wildlife have the potential to walk in front of vehicles (or into the side of your vehicle) at any time”, said Whisper Means.  

We encourage drivers, locals and visitors, to be cautious when driving through the Flathead Indian Reservation. Our wildlife resources are important, as are the lives of the people traveling through the reservation. Wildlife cross the road primarily during evening and night-time hours. Be prepared to stop. Expect the unexpected with wildlife. They do not know instinctively how to react to a car in the road and their reactions can be unpredictable. Reduce your speed at night, added Camel-Means.

If you are involved in a wildlife collision, contact Tribal Dispatch at 406-675-4700 or Lake County Dispatch. For more information on wildlife automobile collisions contact Whisper Camel-Means or Germaine White at 406-883-2888. 

 

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