LINCOLN, Mont. — The mount of a huge grizzly bear on display at the Helena National Forest’s Lincoln Ranger District office has become a tourist attraction and is changing how locals view bruins that roam the region.
“Talk about changing the scope of your job,” said Gerald Lyons, who runs the office’s front desk. “I’m just supposed to sell a few maps, give out fishing information and answer the phone. Now I’ve got Greyhound buses stopping here.”
The 830-pound male is the third-largest grizzly on record in Montana. He died in October 2007 at age 12 after being struck by a pickup.
Various groups wanted the bear, including the University of Montana to add to its Grizzly mascot collection. But a letter-writing campaign spearheaded by local children prevailed, and the bear went on display in Lincoln in July 2008.
That month the number of visitors to the ranger district office increased to 3,171 from 178 the month before.
Besides drawing tourists, the stuffed bear has helped change area residents’ perspective on bears, U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Pat Shanley said.
“This community has developed a lot of ownership — people got on board to make sure it stayed here,” Shanley said. “And now they’re seeing bears as something more than just a roadblock to what they want to do in the woods.”
At the nearby Bootlegger Bar, a sign over the door says “Bear Country,” and owner Vicki Krause said the mounted bear reminds residents that the sign is correct.
“People aren’t complaining about bears as much,” she said. “I don’t know why they did. If you don’t like wildlife here, I don’t know what to tell you. You live in Lincoln. Bear habitat is right behind here.”
She said the big bear at the district office is also good for the local economy.
“The highway brings a lot of business through here, and everybody’s grasping at straws to stay alive,” she said. “We’re really fortunate the Forest Service fought to keep him here.”
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