KALISPELL - A young female grizzly bear fitted with a satellite collar for more than a year embarked on several lengthy swims across portions of Flathead Lake, wildlife officials in Montana said.
Rick Mace with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the 4-year-old grizzly made the swims after being captured on the west side of the lake near Flathead Lake Lutheran Camp late last summer.
Mace said the bear was fitted with the satellite collar she wore from June 2010 to earlier this month when it automatically dropped off as planned.
"We thought that because we don't have bears very often on the west side of the lake that we would put a collar on her," said Mace, a research biologist.
He said after initially being fitted with the collar, the bear was relocated to a remote area but returned to the lake.
Mace said the satellite collar showed her longest swim spanned 7 miles across a southern portion of the lake, and that she stopped for a one-day rest on tiny Bird Island.
"She spent a minimum of eight hours in the water swimming (during that crossing), probably closer to 12 hours if you put it all together," said Mace.
He said he based the numbers on coordinates recorded in four-hour intervals on the satellite collar.
Mace said the bear, starting around Labor Day weekend of last year, also made other long swims. Those swims included going from Painted Rocks point to Cedar Island, where she remained for a day.
She then swam 3 miles southwest to Wild Horse Island, where she remained for three days. From there she headed south on a mile swim to the foothills northwest of Polson Bay, where she spent several days before then making the crossing to Bird Island.
Mace said she's since moved east of the lake and is now living in the Mission Mountain Range near Swan Lake.
"She's kind of settled down there, sort of a Swan Lake bear now," Mace said.
Mace said he was surprised by the bear's willingness to go for long swims.
"This one stands out," he said. "Every bear is kind of cool when you look at the nooks and crannies where they've gone, but this is the first one that's done something like this."
Mace said the bear traveled about 1,200 miles while wearing the collar, with the most notable distances being the long water crossings.
"We don't have a lot of huge lakes within occupied grizzly habitat," he said. "Flathead Lake, I think, would be right up there just in terms of the sheer time she spent in the water. Compared to a lot of the other females we follow, she has quite a large home range, but the fact that she has Flathead Lake in the middle of it makes it a lot bigger by necessity."