WILDLIFE WATCHING -- Grizzly bears on the Rocky Mountain Front are emerging from their dens this year earlier than ever documented after the mild winter, Montana wildlife officials say.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials flew over the area on Friday to check on nine bears that had been fitted with radio collars, the Great Falls Tribune reported. Eight had already left their dens, and several female bears had already traveled far down river drainages east of the mountains.
“This is by far the earliest we’ve had as many transmitted grizzly bears outside of their dens,” FWP grizzly bear management specialist Mike Madel told the paper.
Bears in that area of Montana usually don’t leave their dens before mid-April, and they usually spend a week or 10 days nearby. The activity of the radio-collared bears is representative of the behavior of the overall grizzly population this year, Madel said.
Ranchers and visitors to the area have reported more observations of grizzly bears and tracks than usual, he said.
Hundreds of miles away, some Yellowstone National Park grizzlies were seen emerging from dens in February, possibly because of better access to winter-killed food such as bison.
Bears are rousted from their winter sleep in spring as the snow melts and their dens are exposed to sunlight. Usually, dens are still covered with snow at this time of year. But this year, with very little snow cover east of the Continental Divide, bears have become active earlier, Madel said.
FWP officials advise residents living along the Teton, Sun and Dearborn rivers and Dupuyer and Birch creeks to consider taking down bird feeders, making livestock feed more bear resistant and not leaving garbage out at night.