ETHRIDGE — The deadly attack of a woman by a grizzly bear in Ovando earlier this week is indicative of a problem that some people say is going to get worse.
Montana state Sen. Butch Gillespie says the problem is starting to get out of hand. He sponsored Senate Bill 98 in the Montana Legislature earlier this year, which was designed to help control the grizzly bear population in Montana and to give families more support to protect themselves from a potential bear attack.
He and his wife live just west of Shelby and have about 100 cows that are also at risk now that bears are coming closer to populated areas. They say they have seen bears just outside their kitchen window. He anticipates the bears will continue moving East if nothing changes.
“They’re going to be to our eastern border with North and South Dakota before… I bet you before that much longer. We just need to do something to protect people and property like our livestock like these cows around here,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie says this year has had the most bear activity in recent history and they are starting to make their way further east, away from the mountains and closer to rural areas and small communities.
“If we called Fish and Wildlife and let them if they want to control these bad bears, we're behind them. We're not going to criticize them, we're going to praise them for doing what they need to do," Gillespie said. “They’re all dangerous to a certain point but most of them will leave you alone. There are a select few bad bears that need to be dealt with.”
Trina Bradley ranches just outside Valier and has studied grizzly bears for years. She also serves on the state grizzly bear advisory committee. She has a 13-year-old daughter who can’t play outside alone because the risk of a bear coming onto their property is too high. She says sows are starting to produce more cubs each year and kicking them out at a younger age, forcing the cubs to go elsewhere.
“They will take the path of least resistance, because why wouldn’t they,” Bradley said about the bears. “Younger bears without territory are being pushed into the open by older bears up in the mountains. The plains are where there’s more food that they don’t have to work for and can just sit and wait.”
Gillespie and Bradley both agree that the problem can be solved but say it will require action and initiative from the federal government and the grizzly bear associations involved with bear management.