BUTTE, Mont. — State wildlife biologists are trying to figure out whether grizzly bears spotted this year in the Upper Big Hole River area for the first time in about a century came from Yellowstone or northern Montana.

Grizzly bear sightings have been confirmed on several occasions this summer in the area.

Kevin Frey of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed photographs and tracks seen this summer are of a grizzly bear.

“It’s hard to say if we are seeing one bear or multiple bears at this point, but the range has been near 40 miles across the Upper Big Hole. That’s not surprising. These bears can roam a great distance,” he told the Montana Standard (http://tinyurl.com/jamxc84 ).

Officials say the grizzly bear presence in the Big Hole is a sign of their overall population recovery.

The most recent encounter was last week by the Big Hole Watershed Committee range rider, a program that helps diminish conflict between predators and livestock on federal land using patrols and cameras. This week the game camera revealed a new guest — one sub-adult grizzly bear crossing a stream.

The Big Hole River Watershed is between two distinct grizzly bear populations — the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in northwest Montana and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the south.

“We knew grizzly bear presence in our area was only a matter of time,” said Dean Peterson of the Big Hole Watershed Committee and rancher in the Upper Big Hole. “We have had predator conflict programs in place for several years, including range riders, livestock guard dogs, and removal of attractant such as carcasses.”

State wildlife biologists aren’t ready to say where the grizzly bear or bears came from.

“We can’t honestly say yet, north or south,” said Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Kevin Frey on Monday. “The Big Hole is kind of the gray zone between the two ecosystems.”

If biologists can find a hair sample, a DNA test will answer the question.

“It’s darn sure interesting,” Frey said.


Information from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com