The Big Hole Watershed is home to both black bears (Ursus americanus) and the occasional grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horibilis).
In 2016, a game camera in the upper Big Hole photographed a grizzly bear crossing a stream, and the photograph (above right) was confirmed to be that of a grizzly by a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear biologist. The 2016 photograph marked the first confirmed instance of a grizzly bear in the watershed in several years, though residents report grizzly bear tracks and sightings each year. BHWC responded by ramping up educational efforts in regards to grizzly bears and bear safety awareness, providing bear-resistance garbage cans to residents free-of-charge, and offering two bear safety trainings. More effort and investments may be 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. To read more about recent grizzly bear sightings in the Big Hole watershed, click here.
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, which all provide habitat to grizzly bear populations.
- High percentage of both public lands and adjoining private lands, most of which are used for agricultural purposes (e.g. cattle ranching, hay production).
- Abundant wildlife species and quality habitat, including sprawling ranches, hay fields, coniferous forests, clean water, wet meadows, and thriving sagebrush ecosystems.
- Slow rate of development and subdivision; low human population.
BHWC will help prepare Big Hole residents for the expansion of grizzly bears into our community by providing educational opportunities, conflict reduction programs, and access to necessary tools like bear-resistant garbage cans and bear spray. 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 be proactive in preparing residents to coexist with these bears successfully.
It’s possible that we’ll see more grizzly bear activity in the Big Hole area in the future. If you encounter a grizzly bear or evidence of one, please contact Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Providing documentation with photos of bears or tracks and a location to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks is key to confirming presence.