FWP begins multi-year Montana black bear population and habitat study
May 11, 2023
MISSOULA — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks researchers are launching a new multi-year study on black bears this month aimed at better understanding and estimating the population across the state. The first season of field research will focus on areas in west-central Montana, including the Blackfoot River watershed from Gold Creek through Ovando and Helmville.
The new Montana black bear monitoring program will ultimately help FWP to gain accurate and timely understanding of the black bear populations, accounting for regional differences, to better inform management decisions. Biologists will be able to better assess how hunter harvest and habitat are impacting black bear populations and patterns and make season adjustments and recommendations based on monitoring results.
The study aims to estimate bear abundance, where they are found, what types of habitats they use most frequently and provide a better understanding of survival rates and causes of mortality for males, females and cubs.
Part of the research will include collecting genetic information from barbed wire hair collection sites (called hair corrals). The samples collected at these sites will give researchers the ability to estimate bear numbers, sex and species in a given area. This month, FWP is setting up hair corrals in the Blackfoot. The sites will be set with scents that attract bears to walk through the area, leaving hair samples behind. There will be no food reward for the bear, just the scent. Scents will not be added to the locations until after spring black bear hunting season concludes on June 15.
Because bear activity increases at these hair corral sites, potentially including grizzly bears, bright orange signs will be stapled to trees or posts within 100 yards of each site. If you see these signs or come upon a scent station, please be aware of potentially increased numbers of bears in the immediate area and stay away. All scent sites located on public land will be removed by the end of August, before the beginning of archery season.
Researchers will also gather data from GPS collars on adult and subadult male and female bears. The collars will help researchers understand bear movement, survival and other more specific information on bear habits.
FWP hopes to collar approximately 40 bears across western Montana from June through August. Warning signs will be posted along the major access points to trapping sites and it is important for safety to stay aware and out of posted areas wherever you see these signs.
After this field season concludes, the research will rotate to other parts of the state and eventually repeat in west-central Montana again in 2027.
Montana is bear country. If you are recreating or working outdoors in Montana, it is always a good idea to carry bear spray in case of a surprise bear encounter.
Find out more tips on bear safety: fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management/bear.