It’s proven. Grizzly bears do visit mountains directly north of Missoula

GPS collar shows grizzly was on ridge above Grant Creek in Oct. 2011-

For years there have been reports grizzly bears in or near “The Rattlesnake,” just north of Missoula, Montana. Now there is hard proof that one grizzly briefly visited in October 2011.

A “dropped” GPS collar  found miles to the north from a female grizzly showed that the bear had visited the slopes above Grant Creek in The Rattlesnake a year-and-half-ago. This indicates that some of the past grizzly bear reports were probably accurate.

The Rattlesnake is a long drainage in the gentle to rugged peaks just north of Missoula. The lowest part of the area, which includes other creeks, is suburban and exurban housing and hillslopes. This gives way to a recreation area and then a small unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System. It is hardly an isolated bit of backcountry in a sea of development, however, because these mountains connect to the wilder and vast country to the northeast — the Mission Mountains and “The Bob” (huge Bob Marshall Wilderness, Scapegoat Wilderness and Great Bear Wilderness).

The female bear who lost her GPS collar made quite the grand tour of the NW Montana mountains in October 2011. Researchers didn’t know about it, however, until the GPS radio collar was found. There was an article about it today in the Missoulian. “Radio collar confirms griz on Missoula fringe for 1st time” by Rob Cheney. He describes the find of the collar and the places the 4 year old bear visited.

Residents of the lower Rattlesnake area are already familiar with cougar and black bears, which have been there since the homes began to go in, and, obviously, lived there before that time.



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  1. jburnham Avatar

    It’s good to have quality, confirmed griz sightings. I hope this will encourage people around Missoula to pay closer attention to garbage and other attractants

    Many Missoulians seem to be shrugging this news off though, maybe because exaggerated stories of grizzlies wandering these areas have made the rounds for quite some time. The Rattlesnake has lots of cinnamon colored black bears, and definitely attracts grizzlies from the Mission Mountains and the Swan Valley now and then. But it has nowhere near the numbers of griz that local lore would suggest. Having said that, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to have grizzlies show up anywhere in Western Montana at this point.

  2. sleepy Avatar

    While on the subject of expanding grizzly bear range, I wonder if there have been any more reports of grizzlies out on the plains, e.g., there was a report a couple of years ago of two grizzlies roaming in the area between Great Falls and Fort Benton.

    Hopefully, these are more than just wandering bears, and it would be nice to eventually see cubs in some of the more remote parts of the plains such as the Bears Paw mountains.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      I don’t know if there are any bears out there now in January, but there have been numerous bears that have taken to at least the edge of the plains in recent years. Here is a story from the Billings Gazette from 2011.

      A couple years ago a sow and her cubs almost made it to the Missoula River in north central Montana.

  3. MAD Avatar

    Barren ground grizzlies are on the move north and east of the Rockies, as has been reported over the last 10-15 yrs. A few years ago while doing field work, my wife took a photo of one in Wapusk National Park in northeastern Manitoba, pretty close to Hudson Bay. Also, there have been several hybrid Polar-Grizzly bears identified in the wild in the last few years – one was killed by an American hunter (you can find pics online). It’d be nice to see some genetic work to see where these bears are coming from and how grizzlies are expanding from their recent home ranges.

    I might have to convince the wife to take our dog out of retirement, train him on Griz scat (he did PBs for 4 yrs) and do some DNA analysis.

  4. alf Avatar

    I seem to remember a few years ago (less than 5 ?) that a grizzly was seen on or near I-90 just west of Missoula, heading north to south, toward the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (I think it was either trapped and relocated or killed).

    Also, a few years ago, bear biologist Chuck Jonkel of Missoula had a crew in the Selway-Bitterroot looking for evidence of grizzlies there. I never heard waht the results of his research was. anyone know ?

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Alf – an interesting site and they may have the info you were curious about:

    2. IDhiker Avatar


      They never found any evidence of grizzlies in the Selway-Bitterroot.

      But heck, we have grizzlies all over the east side of the Bitterroot Valley and the west side, too. Just ask the Ravalli County Commissioners! There’s so many that they put the grizzly into the county ‘predator plan.’

      Jonkel’s crew must not have been very observant!

      1. alf Avatar

        I live in Lemhi County, Idaho — just across the border from you.

        You win. Your county kommisars are crazier than ours (That takes real effort !)

        And from what I gather, your state legislature is trying awfully hard to catch up to ours in taking outrageous, bizarre, and extreme positions and introducing goofy bills.

        Fortunately, you have a Democratic governor, so almost by definition, he’d be more sane and rational than a repuglikan, and will exercise his veto stamp. On the other hand, our gov, Butch “The butcher” Otter, is a case in point : Just as bad and extreme as kasick (spelling ?) in Ohio and that yahoo in Wisconsin, but the butcher doesn’t get the publicity they do (relatively small population western state, so who cares ?)

    3. SAP Avatar

      Alf – Kelly Creek grizzly, killed by black bear hunter in 2007. This article mistakenly claims it was in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, but Kelly Creek is north of US 12, in the Great Burn roadless area. Regardless, here was a mature grizzly within 15 miles of the S-B.

      Incidentally, the original Bitterroot Grizzly Recovery Zone takes in quite a bit of this rich habitat north of the Lochsa River. Wouldn’t be surprised to learn of more grizzlies in this area (long as people aren’t killing them).

      1. jburnham Avatar

        Thanks SAP, I’ve been looking for this article for days!

  5. sleepy Avatar

    A couple of years ago a grizzly was killed just outside Butte MT. Another one was killed near Anaconda MT.


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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