KALISPELL — A grizzly bear injured earlier this month when a bird hunter shot the animal in the eye was captured near Ferndale on Wednesday and released in the Spotted Bear area, but only after a Kalispell veterinarian removed the animal’s eyeball and treated an infection.
About two weeks ago, a bird hunter shot at the female grizzly in what was described as a surprise encounter east of Bigfork, wildlife officials said. The hunter was unharmed and reported the incident immediately to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The sow grizzly had a cub and had previously been radio-collared, and both bears were spotted feeding on a road-killed deer along the Swan River Road near Ferndale earlier this week.
“The decision was made to capture the bears and move them pre-emptively,” said John Fraley, an FWP spokesman, adding that the bears’ proximity to humans concerned bear management specialists.
After the bears were captured, FWP examined the adult bear and found that her left eye had been hit by birdshot. FWP contacted Kalispell veterinarian Dan Savage and, after fully anesthetizing the bear, he removed the remnant of the grizzly’s eye tissue, applied stitches, and cleaned the wound, which had become infected. He also administered antibiotics.
“Usually we don’t have the luxury of finding an injured bear and operating on it, but this situation lent itself to an operation,” Fraley said. “I can’t recall us operating on a bear and releasing it back into the wild in my time here.”
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Because bears rely more heavily on their sense of smell, Fraley said he doesn’t expect the operation will compromise its ability to survive in the wild.
“A bear with one eye isn’t at as great of a disadvantage as a more sight-oriented animal,” he said. “We think that the prognosis for survival is pretty good.”
The sow and her cub were released by FWP grizzly bear specialist Tim Manley in the Spotted Bear area near the wilderness boundary, with the hope that the bears would seek to den in a remote area. Manley will continue to follow the grizzly bear’s movements.
The grizzly and cub were originally captured earlier this year along the east front of the Rockies, collared, and moved to the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir.