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First Grizzly Bear Seen in Montana Pryor Mountains in 200 Years

The grizzly could signal the start of a population in the area in the future.

While Montana is certainly bear country, it's long been the home of black bears. Now, a grizzly bear has been seen in Montana's Pryor Mountains for the first time in 200 years.

Officials from Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) confirmed the sighting last week, identifying the grizzly bear from a photograph. The Pryor Mountains, a remote area of primitive trails and old mining roads, extends from south-central Montana into Wyoming and is the home of the Crow Native American tribe. Though there have been reports of grizzlies in the mountains of southeast Montana for a few years, this is the first confirmed sighting.

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FWP's Chrissy Web told The Western News that wildlife biologists didn't know the bear's sex or age, but wildlife officials were working to collect hair samples from the area where the bear was seen. From the hair, FWP may be able to trace the bear's roots.

New Bear on the Block

The Pryor Mountains haven't had confirmed sightings of grizzlies since since the 1800s. Still, grizzlies are found in nearby mountain ranges, and it's likely that this bear wandered over into the Pryors looking for food.

Daniel McHugh, a bear management specialist with FWP, states that the home ranges of bears can vary based on sex, age, and resources, although a male bear's range can be hundreds of square miles.

Bear biologist Chris Servheen of Missoula, Montana, told The Cowboy Sun he suspects that the new predator is a young male, as "that is the age/sex most likely to be long-distance dispersers."

Servheen goes on to explain that although one bear has been sighted, a sustained population is still probably far off. "Creation of a population would require females. While a population in the area might be possible, it would be a long time until such a thing would happen."

A Comeback Story

Grizzlies used to occupy much of the western United States, including nearly all of Montana. However, from the 19th century onward, their numbers were greatly diminished due to habitat deterioration, commercial trapping, and unregulated hunting.

In the early 1900s, Montana led the charge in grizzly bear conservation. The state was one of the first to abolish bear baiting and prohibit the killing of cubs or sows with cubs. The efforts paid off, and in 1975 grizzly bears were federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in all Lower 48 states.

The grizzly bear population has now bounced back in much of Montana. FWP says that Montana is home to 2,100 grizzly bears, the largest remaining population in the United States outside of Alaska. The grizzly sighting in the Pryor Mountains could be the start of the bears extending their range farther.

Following the confirmed sighting, FWP alerted nearby landowners, installed game cameras, and began searching for additional signs of grizzlies in the area. Officials have recommended that anyone recreating or living in the Pryor Mountains follow basic bear safety practices, including carrying bear spray, traveling in groups, and storing food and trash away from camps.

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