OVANDO – A mother grizzly bear with two cubs bluff-charged a fishing raft on the Blackfoot River last week, but has disappeared after river rangers moved an elk carcass she was protecting.
Floaters posted photos of the incident on Dan Mahoney’s Missoula on the Fly outfitters Facebook page. They said it happened about 1.5 miles below River Junction, south of Ovando.
“The elk carcass was on the bank, in a place where the whole river was shallow all the way across except for one deep spot, which is right where the fish were,” Mahoney said. “The bear made a huff sound, and we looked over and saw she was laying on top of the dead elk, with her cubs on top of the dead elk. It just came darting out of the willows at us. She came to the water’s edge, stood up and then led the cubs away. It was cool to see.”
Mahoney alerted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials about the carcass and bear, and also passed the word to fishing shuttle drivers so other boaters would know the hazard.
“We think the high water brought the carcass down,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear manager Jamie Jonkel said. “The bear was right on the shore, trying to get it out of the river. And the natural current of the river took people right into that spot. So the river rangers floated in and grabbed the carcass and moved it out of there.”
Jonkel said the sow appeared to be a young grizzly with her first litter of cubs. She was unmarked and wore no collar, so she’d probably not been in trouble with human encounters before.
“On any given day, people are seeing grizzlies all through that country along the Clearwater and Blackfoot rivers,” Jonkel said. More populated areas are also experiencing bear sightings, although of the smaller, black bear variety.
FWP wardens have been called out several times recently to reports of bears getting into chicken coops and bird feeders in the Rattlesnake and Grant Creek areas of Missoula, although no serious incidents have been reported. Jonkel said he was having a busier time in the Lolo, Superior and Bitterroot areas, where some people were less vigilant about keeping garbage, pet food and other attractants out of bears’ reach.
“We’ve had more bird feeder incidents than we should,” Jonkel said. “A lot of people want us to set up a trap for a bird feeder, but we won’t do that. You’ve just got to take down the bird feeder.”
Hikers have reported seeing grizzly bears in the upper extent of the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness north of Missoula. Grizzlies have also been especially active in the southern portion of the Flathead Indian Reservation, which borders the Rattlesnake.