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Grizzly manager's retirement tops busy bear season

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Tim Manley

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear management specialist Tim Manley prepares to place a radio collar on a captured grizzly bear in the Flathead Valley. 

Even with almost four decades of grizzly management under his belt, Tim Manley still managed to make his retirement year a busy time.

The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 1 bear management specialist wrapped up his final season with 33 grizzly captures. Only 2004 and 2011 had more.

Since 1993, Manley participated in 508 captures of 313 individual grizzly bears, averaging 18 a year.

“He’s one of the best bear managers on the planet,” FWP Region 1 Supervisor Jim Williams said during Wednesday’s Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem bear management meeting.

In addition to the lengthy experience helping northwest Montana human residents deal with an estimated 1,000 grizzly bears, Williams praised Manley for mentoring squads of young biologists, game wardens and citizen wildlife enthusiasts.

Manley started integrating satellite-based GIS mapping technology to bear management in the 1990s. Williams also credited him with major improvements to remote camera setups, including the perfection of motion- and heat-triggered shutters. Those cameras are now used for tracking tigers in Siberia as well as grizzlies in North America.

In addition to bears (grizzly and black), Manley did research on bighorn sheep, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and woodland caribou. Beyond extensive tracking, conflict management and habitat monitoring of grizzlies, he worked on methods to keep individual bears out of trouble by modifying their behavior.

“He’s really a creative, MacGyver-type engineer,” Williams said. “He’s always ahead of his time.”

This year, Manley responded to more than 300 reports of grizzly activity throughout Region 1. The annual average is closer to 200. He usually brings lots of research data to help the callers understand the scope of the wildlife encounters they’ve just reported.

To illustrate, Manley posted several tracking maps of radio-collared grizzlies moving around the Kalispell and Whitefish communities. They showed intense activity in the forests right on the edges of both towns.

Then he showed a video from a trail camera set by a hunter who’d killed a deer on the east side of the Flathead valley. In three days, at least four different grizzly bears came to sniff the site, even though the hunter had already removed the carcass.

“It’s just another reminder that when hunting in grizzly country, there’s a good reason to get your game out of the woods quickly,” Manley said.

The tracking maps also came in handy during the Hay Creek fire along the North Fork of the Flathead River. Manley helped the fire crew set up electric fencing to defend their food supplies, and persuaded the incident commander to widely separate the eating and sleeping areas. A map of grizzly activity showed intense probing by bears at both locations, but the firefighters had no run-ins with the actual bears.

Other parts of the North Fork weren’t so uneventful. One grizzly sow in particular came to a tragic end after two of her litters of cubs became garbage-conditioned. Manley’s team caught and killed two of her cubs in 2018. She stayed out of trouble in 2019, but then appeared in 2020 with three more cubs.

In 2021, she and her now-yearling cubs caused extensive damage, including breaking into vehicles, horse trailers and sheds. A pack of barking guard dogs failed to deter her from eating leftovers at one trash site.

Shortly after she was caught on video tearing through the side of an empty camper trailer and climbing inside for food, Manley made the decision to capture and kill her and all three female cubs.

Results were more successful at a composting site in Columbia Falls that was attracting numerous grizzlies. Although it was protected by an electric fence, the bears were able to knock down the wires and get inside. They evaded a reinforced fence by digging under it. Manley’s crew eventually figured a way to electrify the hole under the wire. They also trapped and removed four grizzlies and got evidence of five more frequenting the site before it was contained.

Manley’s retirement led a pack of departure announcements on Wednesday. Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow plans to retire at the end of the year, as does Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Bill Avey. Ross Baty of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is retiring. Williams credited him with helping establish the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes wildlife program manager Dale Becker retired earlier this year, and CSKT also lost longtime bear manager Stacy Courville, who died on Feb. 15.

FWP biologist Cecily Costello also memorialized independent grizzly advocate Brian Peck, a frequent critic of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee who Costello said exemplified polite and courteous debate. Peck, of Columbia Falls, died on Nov. 7.

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