Wildlife in western Montana has taken a beating in recent weeks, with two grizzly bear cubs killed on railroad tracks recently southeast of Trego and a bull moose poached southwest of Clinton.
The death of the two cubs brings the total to 44 known or probable grizzly bear mortalities in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) across northwest Montana, challenging the troubling record of 46 deaths last year.
Grizzly bears are listed as threatened in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act.
Of the 2019 mortalities, eight involved train collisions, which is the most in a single year on record.
The Missoulian reported last week that six grizzlies died in about a one-week period on the eastern side of the NCDE between Glacier National Park and on or near the Blackfeet Reservation in weather-related incidents.
Of those, three were hit by trains and two were hit by vehicles outside the reservation while they were feeding on cattle carcasses left over from the early season snowstorms, said Cassie Powell, a grizzly bear/human conflict specialist for the Blackfeet Nation.
The sixth mortality involved a grizzly put down east of Rogers Pass for killing cattle.
Those deaths brought the total last Friday to 38 grizzly bears who died that were considered NCDE bears. Since then, the two cubs found Tuesday are included in the tally, as are two grizzlies killed earlier this year on the Blackfeet Reservation — one due to cattle predation and the other young female grizzly killed by a male grizzly.
Dillion Tabish, a Region 1 spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said two other bears that were radio-collared in the NCDE moved through Glacier and crossed the Canadian border, where they were shot by a landowner. That case is under investigation.
Those 44 known mortalities in 2019, coupled with the record 46 bears that died in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in 2018, total close to 10% of the 1,000-plus grizzlies estimated to live within the 5.7 million acres of the NCDE, which spans both sides of the Continental Divide including Glacier National Park and some national forests and reservations.
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Tabish said that while this isn’t a cause for concern yet, any NCDE grizzly mortality is unfortunate.
“We are a month or so away from bears going into the dens, so unfortunately we can have more, and any single mortality is unfortunate,” Tabish said. “With the expanding grizzly population in an area that’s growing with people, the loss from trains, vehicles and livestock predation is unfortunate but correlates with more bears and more people on the landscape.”
Tabish added that since 1999, a total of 43 bears have been killed after collisions with trains. The bears’ deaths from trains spiked in the 1990s and early 2000s after grain from trains was spilling onto the tracks. The railroads made a commitment to reduce those attractants and the number of train-related mortalities dropped.
This year saw 22 removals by agencies, including two that were relocated to augment the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population; the eight killed by trains; five killed by vehicles; one each put down for defense of life and property; three shootings that are under investigation; one death from natural causes and three deaths that are under investigation.
Tabish said the two cub deaths that were reported Tuesday were found by U.S. Forest Service employees. They’re not sure how long the young-of-the-year cubs’ bodies were there, but the sow wasn’t able to be located.
One cub was a female. The other’s body was too damaged to determine the sex.
The poached bull moose near Clinton was found a few weeks ago in the Swartz Creek area. FWP didn’t immediately announce the death as they followed up leads, but as those dried up they’re asking for the public’s help.
Vivaca Crowser, a Region 2 spokesperson for FWP, said game wardens don’t want to go into details about the poaching, but that wildlife crimes like this often are solved through tips provided by the public.
A photograph of the moose shows its head resting on a log, its antlers intact.
Anyone with information on the poaching is encouraged to contact FWP at 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668). Callers can remain anonymous and could be eligible for up to a $1,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction.