The Big Hole Watershed is home to black bears (Ursus americanus) and the occasional grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horibilis).

The 2016 photograph of a grizzly bear crossing a stream in the upper Big Hole watershed marked the first confirmed instance of a grizzly bear in the watershed in several years, though residents often report grizzly bear sightings. BHWC responded by providing bear-resistance garbage cans to residents free-of-charge and offering two bear safety awareness trainings, but more effort and investment are necessary to prepare residents for grizzly bears, which are likely to expand into the Big Hole watershed based on its location and wealth of wildlife habitats.

you can expect to see more grizzly bears in the Big Hole because:

  • Of its proximity to the Greater Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, and Bitterroot Ecosystems;
  • Of its high percentage of both public lands and adjoining private lands, most of which are used for agricultural purposes (e.g. cattle ranching, hay production);
  • It is home to abundant wildlife species and excellent wildlife habitat, including sprawling ranches, hay fields, coniferous forests, clean water, wet meadows, and thriving sagebrush ecosystems; and
  • Of its slow rate of development and subdivision; low human population.

We believe it is of the utmost importance to prepare Big Hole residents for the expansion of grizzly bears into our community by providing education and conflict reduction programs. People will accept grizzlies on the landscape if they experience limited negative interactions (losses) with them, and the best way to prevent negative interactions is to prepare residents so they have the knowledge and tools necessary to coexist with these bears successfully.

More about Grizzly Bears

The Big Hole River area is not a place people expect to see a grizzly bears, and in fact, most people in the area operate under the assumption that grizzlies are not present. This is for a good reason, as grizzlies have been absent from the Big Hole watershed for roughly a century.  However, grizzly populations to the north and south have recovered considerably in recent decades, leading to bears dispersing into historic range. The confirmed sightings summer 2016 represent the first time that grizzlies have been documented in the Big Hole area in several years. To read more about recent grizzly bear sightings in the Big Hole watershed, click here.


It’s possible to see more grizzly bear activity in the Big Hole area. If you encounter a grizzly bear activity, providing documentation with photos of bears or tracks and a location to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks is key to confirming presence.


Bear Aware & Grizzly Bear Resources

USFS: Be Bear Aware & Food Storage Order

United States Fish and Wildlife Service: Grizzly Bears

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks: Grizzly Bear Management Plans

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks: What to do if you Encounter a Grizzly Bear

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks: Facts About Grizzly Bears

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks: Recreating in Bear Country

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks: Grizzly Signs & Tracks

Grizzly Bear Press Releases & News Articles

BHWC Grizzly Bear Press Release_8-2016

“Bears on the move as de-listing plan gets new public comment review.” – Missoulian_2016

“Bow hunters give up kill to grizzly bear.” – Helena Air_2016

“Becoming Aware of the Bear” – Montana Outdoors (FWP)_2009