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Search for injured grizzly unsuccessful south of Big Sky

Search for injured grizzly unsuccessful south of Big Sky

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More than a week after a grizzly bear was injured by a pistol-packing archery hunter in the Madison Range, searchers have been unable to find the wounded bruin.

The bear charged two hunters on Sept. 14 at the head of Eldridge Creek, according to a Custer Gallatin National Forest press release. One of the hunters fired his handgun several times in the direction of the bear as it charged within a few feet.

Eldridge Creek is a tributary to the Taylor’s Fork, which drains into the Gallatin River south of Big Sky.

Following the confrontation, the bear left and law enforcement officers from the Forest Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigated the scene. They found several drops of blood but could not locate the injured bear.

“There was really nothing beyond that,” according to Morgan Jacobsen, FWP Information and Education Program manager in Bozeman, despite a search by wardens and bear specialists. Other hunters in the area were warned of the encounter, he added.

The bear encounter is the second in the region this month. In early September a 69-year-old archery hunter was attacked by a mother grizzly protecting her cubs in the Big Sky area. As the crow flies, the two incidents are separated by less than 15 miles.

Signs have been posted in the Eldridge Creek area warning hunters, hikers and mountain bikers that a wounded bear may be roaming the region. However, some tactics that can prevent such encounters — such as talking loudly to avoid surprising a bear and staying on trails — are not likely to be used by hunters who are trying to sneak up on game animals like elk.

Last year, FWP reported 18 encounters between grizzlies and recreationists in southwest Montana. In those 18 encounters, five people were injured and two adult bears were killed. Another grizzly that was injured by a hunter who shot at it was never found.

“Like last year, we have seen a lot of bear activity this fall,” Jacobsen said.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes portions of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, contains an estimated 750 grizzly bears. During the fall, bears are actively searching for food to put on weight before going into hibernation, a hunger phase known as hyperphagia.

In July, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported that wildlife officials in the GYE had already tallied seven grizzly bear encounters resulting in injuries, up from the previous high mark of three injuries in the first half of 2007.

“You have some that involved antler hunters, some that involved bikers, hikers, a tourist in Yellowstone, a Fish and Wildlife Service employee," Frank van Manen, supervisor of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, told the News & Guide. “It’s all over the map, which tells me there’s nothing in particular going on with the bears themselves.”

In response to the increase in grizzly bear encounters, Wyoming agencies created a grizzly bear response team this year for such incidents to provide quicker coordination and reaction.

Grizzly bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act, but lawmakers in Montana and Wyoming are pushing a bill that would turn management of the species over to state wildlife agencies. If passed, the bill would block judicial review.

Precautions advisable to avoid encounters with grizzlies include: carrying bear spray, knowing how to use it and having it easily within reach; not hiking alone; sticking to trails; and storing any food or other attractants out of a bear’s reach.

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