Highway 93 claims matriarch grizzly bear
News from CSKT
FLATHEAD RESERVATION — The matriarch grizzly bear known as Griz-40 met her demise on a 14-mile stretch of highway associated with Post Creek and the Ninepipe wetland complex. She was struck by a vehicle on Friday, Sept. 4, when she was crossing the highway at 2 a.m.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Wildlife Management Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have been cooperatively monitoring grizzly bears since 2004, when the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem monitoring study began.
Griz-40 was first captured by Montana FWP in the Swan Valley and fitted with a radio collar for tracking in 2001. DNA and other samples collected from the bear determined that she was born in 1995. Biologists monitored bears with collars from 2001-2005, making her one of the first trend-monitoring bears for the NCDE.
During all of that monitoring, Griz-40 was never classified as a conflict bear. Her known locations were documented in the Swan Valley, and she was never detected, while wearing a collar, on the west side of the Mission Mountains. She was known to have bred with a bear named Sias in 2002, 2006 and 2009.
Sias was collared by CSKT and FWP wildlife biologists east of Ronan for breaking into a barn to access feed corn. After his capture and release, he was recaptured in the Swan Valley and euthanized in 2011 by FWP for breaking into at least nine garages and sheds to access food. Sias was 13 at the time of his death, and his teeth were worn down so far that it was most likely easier for him to access stored food sources.
FWP has captured nine bears that were identified as Griz-40’s offspring, using DNA to determine parentage. Her female offspring have produced at least 11 grand-offspring, including a male grizzly bear that was captured at the Stevensville golf course in 2018. The last litter biologists know about occurred when Griz-40 was 21-years-old in 2016. She gave birth to three cubs. One of these cubs was captured and collared in 2018 by the CSKT Wildlife Management Program, and this sub-adult bear, named Kiki, was monitored for graduate research at the University of Montana by Kari Eneas, a tribal wildlife biologist. Eneas’ project was about evaluating how grizzly bears use habitat in the Mission Valley in relation to small livestock, as well as the effectiveness of electric fence at deterring grizzly bear conflicts.
According to Stacy Courville, carnivore management specialist, “Losing bears, especially females, is detrimental to the population. It isn’t good for the overall health and future of the population.”
Grizzly vehicle collisions on U.S. Highway 93 have been a source of concern for CSKT for many years.
“We are working with the Montana Department of Transportation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to come up with highway improvements that will work for grizzlies when the highway reconstruction resumes in the Ninepipe area, including the construction to add a 500-foot Post Creek bridge,” said CSKT wildlife biologist Whisper Camel-Means. “This is sad to see them killed and a complicated issue to fix,” she said. “Grizzly bears are smart and move around where they want to.”