Grizzly bears continue to move out onto the plains of Northern Montana

More good news about the grizzlies of Glacier National Park, the Rocky Mountain Front and now more-

We have run news every year about grizzlies reclaiming the sparsely populated plains of northern Montana from ten to a hundred miles east of the mountains. A lot of these bears are really large for interior grizzlies.

A couple years ago a grizzly and her cubs almost made it to the Missouri River.

This is happy news for those who love big animals and wildness. The New York Times has a feature article today. They gave their article an uninteresting, uninformative headline. Grizzlies Return, With Strings Attached, so our headline is better.



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  1. mad Avatar

    My wife co-authored a paper a few years ago about the recent trend of grizzlies moving into northeastern Manitoba (polar bear country). Seems the griz populations are spreading out into some of their former ranges and some new areas. Definitely gonna make things interesting.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      Thank you for your article “Grizzly Bears in Wapusk National Park, Northeastern Manitoba.” It is very interesting.

      I wonder if grizzlies and polar began to mate and form an intermediate species, and if this is due to a natural response to changing conditions, is this a problem?

      I understand (please correct me if I am wrong) that polar bears emerged from a grizzly bear like predecessor in relatively recently geological times.

      Polar bears seem to have little future now without undergoing some physical as well as behavioral changes that make them less dependent on using ocean ice to hunt from.

  2. jburnham Avatar

    I’ve often wondered why we don’t see more griz/black bear hybrids. I know they’re capable of interbreeding. It would seem like they cross paths more often than grizzlies and polar bears. Maybe there’s no evolutionary driver, but it must happen every now and then.

  3. mad Avatar

    Ralph, in 2006 a hunter from Idaho (jim martell) shot a polar bear while out with an Inuit guide. when they were taking the obligatory pictures kneeling over the carcass they noticed the bear had dark circles around it’s eyes and claws simlar to grizzly. DNA tests confirmed that the mother was a polar bear and the father was a grizzly. so, interbreeding does occur in the wild, though infrequently. It’s been hampered in the past by geography, the timing of estrus of females, size of the individual bears involved, etc. But now that grizzlies are on the move, it may be seen more and more. I know a recent find of a PB jawbone in Svalbard showed that PB have been distinct from other bears for at least 150K years.

    My wife and her colleagues have had a lot of difficulties and backlash from the “old guard” of PB researchers because their work definitively shows that PBs are already changing their diet and finding new food sources (thus proving that PBs have more plasticity than previously believed). This flies in the face of the extreme predictions of PBs virtually going extinct in 40 years because of the loss of ice in the Arctic. Diet analysis done 50 yrs ago compared to today show PBs are eating alternative food sources and increasing others to compensate for the decline in seals as a source.

    unfortunately, I’m really not smart enough to discuss all the physiological and molecular work my wife has done, but it seems to me as if the PBs have the “capability” to survive, but how many will survive is a big question determined by location, climate change and a host of other variables. we’ll see what happens….

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      There was a lot of publicity here in Idaho when the polar bear/grizzly was shot. Thanks for the photo.

      I’m glad you are reporting what you find about polar bears changing their food habits. That their foraging behavior is more plastic than previously thought is one obvious hypothesis. I can see where there would be at least subtle pressure against the hypothesis’ confirmation because of the great political contention over climate change and the range of its possible impacts.

    2. JB Avatar

      Behavioral adaptation on the part of any bears is not unexpected–but these are individual-level adjustments. What remains unanswered is how climate change will effect bear populations. Put another way: the behavioral changes of individual bears may not be enough to offset the loss of seals as a food source; thus, a population decline. At the very least, declines in sea ice mean polar bears will spend more time on land–and around people.

      1. mad Avatar

        JB, agreed that this is representative of only one population of bears that have been extensively studied for over 50 yrs – the Southern Hudson Bay population. But I disagree that this behavioral change cannot offset the loss of nutrition intake from seals. The “old guard” has insisted for decades that PBs “fasted” while on land in state of “walking hibernation.” This has been shown to be totally untrue. Now they old guys admit that PBs eat while on land. It has been shown that PBs are now supplementing their diets with geese and goose eggs (especially since they come ashore earlier and during nesting season when geese have dropped flight feathers and can’t fly), caribou and a host of other previously undocumented food sources.

        Will there be a decline in overall populations? Of course, without a doubt. Will the majority of all populations die off because they will not have access to sea ice as a platform to hunt seals, I doubt that very seriously.

        And yes, the “subtle” pressure exerted by the “old guard” has extended to publication acceptance in journals, funding, presentation time at conferences, the list goes on and on.

        But hey, I’m a lawyer, I don’t have to deal with this stuff directly so I can sit back and smile – but my better half is fighting an uphill battle to get the truth out there, as opposed to half-baked predictions designed to scare people into action.

  4. mad Avatar

    a little shamless promotion, if I may…here’s an article and slide show-interview that Andy Revkin and the NY Times did on my wife and crazy dog (actually it’s crazy wife and dog) when she was knee-deep in her research. I was lucky enough to accompany her up in Churchill a few years and work as a tech out in the field – lots of fun and very scary seeing the PBs up close (50m) in the wild

  5. Allen Schallenberger Avatar
    Allen Schallenberger

    Jim Robbins of Helena, MT and The New York Times could not be bothered to do a little historical research on grizzly bears of the Rocky Mountain Front and also why grizzly bears were listed as threatened. His statement that there were no grizzly bears along the Rocky Mountain Front in 1975 is false. I was the wildlife management biologist for MT FG on the Rocky Mountain Front 1965-1974. We had grizzlies present on the creeks and rivers on the plains east of the mountains not far out of Choteau and Dupuyer. We had a hunting season as they were classified as game animals. My friend the Augusta area game warden killed far more bears than ranchers. That is the reason I made the recommendation in 1980 for bear specialists who were trained in bear management. Mike Madel of Choteau, now getting his Ph.D was the first bear specialist hired.

    I started the first intensive research on the grizzlies in Montana outside the parks and worked on the Rocky Mountain Front on that 1975-1980. Part of that work included trapping grizzlies on the foothills and plains, putting radio collars on them and following them till they denned each year.

    The reason grizzly bears were listed as threatened was because Glenn Cole killed about 229 grizzly bears over a three year period in the Yellowstone area and he also killed about 400 black bears. He believed there were garbage bears and wild bears. He also did not like bears and was alledgedly killing them in the 1960’s in Grand Teton National Park based on info from my graduate school office mate who did his M.S. on elk in Grand Teton National Park under Cole. He was later the wildlife research chief in Glacier National Park for many years.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan