Grizzly bear confirmed in Pryors, and grizzly data counts continue in southwest Montana

By: - July 12, 2023 6:47 pm

A grizzly bear visits a hair snare corral in southwest Montana, June 2021. (Provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A grizzly bear has been roaming in the Pryor Mountains, state wildlife officials confirmed this week.

Many people have reported seeing grizzly bears in the mountains in southeast Montana in recent years, but the recently identified grizzly is the first confirmed sighting, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Grizzly bears haven’t lived there since the late 1800s, FWP said.

Officials identified the bear from a photograph. In a news release, FWP said they subsequently informed nearby landowners, installed game cameras in the area, and are searching for additional signs of grizzlies.

In a phone call Wednesday, FWP Region 5’s Chrissy Webb said wildlife biologists don’t know the bear’s sex or age. However, she said wildlife officials are working on collecting hair samples in the area to look at its DNA and trace its roots.

Grizzly bears are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in all lower 48 states. FWP said Montana counts more than 2,100 grizzly bears.

Webb said it’s much too early to assess what a future grizzly bear population might look like in the Pryors. However, she said the bear’s presence might be tied to its dinner.

“Grizzly bears, like black bears, are omnivores, meaning they eat a wide range of things,” Webb said. “So a lot of times, that movement is based on food availability.”

In other grizzly bear news this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it is continuing genetic sampling this summer in another corner of the state, southwest Montana, to document their presence and understand how they have been dispersed.

In a news release, Vanna Boccadori, FWP Butte area wildlife biologist, said the project is part of a plan to better understand grizzly bears in the upper Big Hole Valley and nearby mountain ranges. FWP is one of the partners on the project.

“This project is part of a proactive approach to minimize potential conflicts and allow safe passage of grizzlies throughout southwest Montana to the benefit of both bears and people,” Boccadori said in a statement.

In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would consider removing grizzly bears from a list of endangered and threatened wildlife in northwest Montana and the Yellowstone National Park area. A yearlong review is underway.

State leaders are working to prepare for the delisting, if it takes place, and for how to possibly manage their recovery in specific areas of Montana, such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

As for the sighting in the Pryors, FWP sent a news release this week about the discovery, and Webb said the agency mainly wants to remind people who live and hike in the area to practice bear safety tips.

For example, carry bear spray when hiking, and don’t store food inside tents.

“There is already a population of black bears in the Pryors, so hopefully folks were already doing some of those bear safety protocols,” Webb said.

Daniel McHugh, bear management specialist with FWP in Region 5, said the home range of a grizzly varies based on its sex, age and surrounding resources, but it can be hundreds of square miles for males.

“The Pryors are excellent bear habitat, so it’s no surprise that they support high numbers of black bears and the occasional grizzly,” McHugh said in an email.

Genetic sampling

This non-invasive genetic sampling survey uses temporary barbed-wire corrals and remote cameras with a scent lure to attract bears to the sites. As bears climb over or under the barbed wire to investigate the scent, their hair collects on the barbs without causing injury to the bear. The hair samples are then used for genetic analysis.

Sampling sites are located away from roads, campgrounds, trails, and other areas with high human use. The scent lure provides no food reward, ensuring no motivation for bears to linger at the sites. All sampling sites are signed to notify anyone in the site’s immediate vicinity and include contact information for the Grizzly Bear Recovery Program; the public is asked to avoid the area if they come across a site.

More information about grizzly bear conservation and biology can be found from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Bear safety tips

Anyone recreating in the Pryor Mountains should follow these bear safety protocols:
· Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
· Stay alert and look for bear sign, especially where visibility is limited. Common bear sign to look for includes: tracks, scat, diggings, torn up logs, carcasses, daybeds and overturned rocks.
· Avoid traveling at dawn, dusk, or night when bears are typically most active.
· Make human-associated noises, such as shouting and talking, to alert bears of your presence.
· Travel in groups and keep members together.
· Never store food or other scented items in tents while camping.
· Avoid animal carcass sites.

Landowners in the Pryor Mountains should follow these bear safety protocols to avoid potential conflicts and attracting bears:
· Store garbage in certified bear-resistant bins or in secured buildings until the day of disposal.
· Protect livestock, such as goats and chickens, with an electric fence.
· Remove potential attractants or store in a secured building. Common attractants include: pet and livestock feed, barbeque grills, bird feeders, fruit from fruit-bearing trees, compost.

For more information on bear safety, visit:

For any bear conflicts or concerns, contact Daniel McHugh at [email protected] or 406-850-1131.

Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.