The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks are investigating the deaths of three grizzly bears in the state last month; two in Bigfork found Nov. 9 and one in the Yaak found Nov. 20.
This week, FWP spokesman Dillon Tabish said the agencies are looking into the death of an adult female grizzly bear in the Yaak located Nov. 20 on Pipe Creek Road. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee estimates the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem grizzly bear population to be roughly 50 animals, with females a particularly valuable fraction. Grizzlies are protected as a threatened species in the Lower 48 States, and it is illegal to harm, harass or kill them except in self-defense or defense of others.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Yaak resident Wynne Zellmer said a neighbor called him around 11 p.m. Nov. 20 to tell him a dead bear was lying in the driveway of his property. He returned to the property, which isn't his primary residence, and said it looked like the bear had been killed elsewhere and then dumped off in the driveway.
"They took the legs off up to the belly, and I saw one paw was still on it," Zellmer said. He also said the hide had been skinned back partway on the belly, and the bear was shot. "You could see a bullet hole. Just behind the front leg."
He said there were quite a few footprints around the bear and some tire tracks. An adult female grizzly bear can weigh from 250 to 350 pounds.
"Fish and game even said this is something new and peculiar to them, where it was just dropped off in the driveway," Zellmer said.
Last month, state game wardens announced authorities were looking into the death of two grizzly bears near Bigfork. The carcasses of an adult female bear and a yearling were found near Montana Highway 83 on Bear Creek Road. No additional information was available Tuesday about that investigation.
In a Facebook post the same day, ecologist and author Cristina Eisenberg noted the bear deaths.
"These bears were killed and dumped near Bear Creek, near Bigfork," she wrote. " ... FWP is investigating this incident. This is really close to where I live. If you've seen anything suspicious, please report it to FWP. The loss of these beautiful bears' lives is tragic. And thank you FWP bear specialist Tim Manley and FWP game wardens for your tireless work to help keep bears alive."
In a news release about the bear death in the Yaak, FWP encouraged anyone with possible information about the incident to call 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668). Callers may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a cash reward.
FWP directed questions about penalties for grizzly bear poaching to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.