White Sulphur grizzly

A 3-year-old grizzly bear inspects a rock west of White Sulphur Springs in this game-camera photo from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The solo grizzly possibly traveled from the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, at least 100 miles to the west.

Courtesy Montana FWP

A 3-year-old grizzly bear left a selfie on a state game camera in the Big Belt Mountains west of White Sulphur Springs, marking the first confirmed sighting there in a hundred years.

The photograph of the bear turned up on a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf survey camera trap. It appeared to be alone and had no identifying tags or marks indicating where it came from. The Big Belt Mountains separate Helena from White Sulphur Springs. FWP spokesman Bruce Auchly said there were no reported bear conflicts in the area.

“This is the second grizzly bear sighting this year in areas the species has not been present for a long time, maybe even a century,” Auchly wrote in an email. “In June, a pair of grizzlies apparently came down the Teton River from the Rocky Mountain Front and ended up near Stanford, east of Great Falls. The young bears were captured and euthanized after they preyed on livestock.

Area biologist Jay Kolbe said tracks were first seen in May but were inconclusive. When cameras went up to track local wolf populations, the photo of the bear confirmed the suspicions.

"We're been getting sporadic reports for a couple of years in the Big and Little Belts from people we'd otherwise trust, but it takes something like this to confirm it," he said. 

Although unconfirmed if this photo is the same bear as May, it could be an indication that the bear has taken up residency. 

The photo was captured on the eastern flank in the central portion of the range, Kolbe said. The bear, which is unmistakably a grizzly, appears to be a young bear, he added.

Having a grizzly in the area will not dramatically impact management, Kolbe said. Public outreach is the main task plus dealing with any conflicts that could potentially arrive with private landowners.

Information given to hunters also changes slightly, both for awareness for black bear hunters that a grizzly is in the area plus some big game hunters prefer to hunt in areas without grizzlies and the Belts have historically been one of those areas, he said. 

Auchly said some young grizzlies from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem have started exploring the river corridors leading out of the Rocky Mountain Front to new territory in central Montana. They’ve been reported in the Sun, Marias, Dearborn and Teton drainages looking for natural foods. But the animals can also be attracted to unprotected opportunistic foods, like grain, livestock feed, beehives, livestock, garbage and pet food. That means people in places unaccustomed to grizzly bear visits need to take precautions.

“Starting July 24, a new bear management specialist, Wesley Sarmento, will begin working for FWP out of Conrad,” Auchly wrote. “In addition, the department has also held numerous public meetings, asking people who live in bear country to be bear-aware, including picking up food attractants and protecting livestock. Home owners in bear country should take down bird feeders, secure garbage inside a closed garage or secure shed, feed pets inside, clean up chicken and livestock feed, and in general remove all odorous substances that can draw bears.”

FWP has brochures and a webpage with additional information on electric fencing:

Independent Record Reporter Tom Kuglin contributed to this story.

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