Out There: Grizzlies In The Gallatin

What I find interesting about this article is that I started this project on West Gardiner larrge mammals; including the grizzly, back in 1984. There is a Kodiak Island brown bear study that is mentioned by Steve Gehman also that I did from 1993 to 1996…that particular study was settled by Exxon Valdez Mitigation Funds…
by Ben Pierce for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Steve Gehman
Steve Gehman collects a sample of bear hair from a tree trunk along the Buffalo Horn Creek trail north of Yellowstone National Park.

File Photo
Grizzly bearThis June 7, 2005, photo shows a grizzly bear moving through the brush at the park in Wyoming. New research suggests grizzly bears are re-colonizing areas of former habitat in the Gallatin Mountains north of Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park photo.

Ben Pierce
Steve GehmanSteve Gehman of Bozeman hikes the Buffalo Horn Creek trail into the Gallatin Mountains on July 20, 2011. Gehman is working to document grizzly bear populations in the range.

Ben Pierce
Steve Gehman examines bear scatWildlife biologist Steve Gehman examines bear scat found near Buffalo Horn Creek on Wednesday morning.

Photo courtesy Wild Things Unlimited
Steve GehmanSteve Gehman investigates a bear’s day bed. Gehman is looking for evidence of grizzly bears in the Gallatin Range this week.

..Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2011 12:15 am | Updated: 10:34 am, Fri Jul 22, 2011.

Grizzlies in the Gallatin BEN PIERCE, Chronicle OutThere Editor The Bozeman Daily Chronicle | 0 comments

Steve Gehman’s first job as a wildlife biologist landed him in the middle of some of the richest grizzly bear habitat in North America. Fresh out of graduate school at Oregon State University, Gehman took a job documenting wildlife activity near Gardiner on the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park.

It was on those rugged slopes that Gehman first documented wild grizzly bears. It was an experience that developed into an occupation and later a passion. His career would lead him north to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Kodiak Island, to Montana’s Swan Range and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Now, nearly three decades on, Gehman’s research of Yellowstone grizzlies continues. On Wednesday morning, Gehman set out on foot up Buffalo Horn Creek south of Big Sky. For three days he will attempt to document grizzly bears in the Gallatin Range as he hikes along the west edge of the Gallatin Crest and then down Porcupine Creek to the Gallatin River.

“Grizzly bears represent wildness,” Gehman said during an interview in Bozeman on Monday. “When you have grizzlies you have wild country. When you hike in grizzly country, having that animal that represents power and danger and intelligence … those feelings are important.”

Gehman’s studies of grizzlies in the Gallatin Mountains have revealed some surprising findings. Two studies based in Tom Miner Basin, an area of broad, sweeping slopes and abundant wildlife west of the Yellowstone River, sparked Gehman’s desire to further explore the presence of grizzlies in the range.

An initial study, conducted from 1984-1988, found zero to five grizzly bears present in Tom Miner Basin annually. Gehman observed the bears using non-intrusive methods — by glassing the slopes of the basin at regular intervals, collecting hair samples from trees, fence lines and posts for genetic testing, and by observing scat, tracks and feeding areas. A minimum of one adult female grizzly was sighted in the area and no courting pairs were observed.

Between 2006-2008, Gehman returned to Tom Miner Basin under contract from the B Bar Ranch to observe wildlife in the area and record his findings.

What he found shocked him.

“The real surprise was the number of grizzly bears in the area,” Gehman said. “In those three years we documented 20 grizzlies just in the Tom Miner Basin … We think there may have been as many as 23 when we combine observations from all three years.”

Gehman said minimum numbers of grizzly bears using the area were nine to 16 annually. Those numbers included three to six adult females using the area, and as many as three courting pairs per year.

“To have resident female grizzlies in this area outside of Yellowstone is telling information that this is good habitat and they feel secure enough to be here,” Gehman said.

Excited by his findings, the obvious question arose: If there are that many grizzly bears in the Tom Miner Basin, how far up the Gallatin Range are they coming and how close are they getting to Bozeman?

With that question in mind, Gehman and his wife, Betsy Robinson, set out under the auspices of their own non-profit, Bozeman-based Wild Things Unlimited, to document grizzlies in other drainages and areas of the Gallatin Mountains.

Beginning in 2009, working north from Tom Miner Basin Gehman has documented three additional male grizzlies, one as far north as Trail Creek. His research has covered more than 20 drainages in which 89 hair samples were collected. Of those samples, 19 belonged to grizzlies.

This week’s reconnoitering of Buffalo Horn Creek and Porcupine Creek are intended to fill in a gap in Gehman’s research. He wants to know if grizzlies have been using that area of the Gallatins as well.

Gehman’s findings will be assembled into a report commission by The Wilderness Society. The document is expected to be completed this winter and shared with the public.

“What we have done is asked Steve to put together a report that gives folks an understanding of what is up there in terms of wildlife and habitat,” said Wilderness Society communications manager Jared White. “No one has really compiled all this wildlife data in one spot before. Right now, it is just about putting a scientific lens on a place so folks can understand the values of the Gallatin Range.”

Gehman said the expansion of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population into its historic habitat is significant in the bear’s recovery. He said the move north along the Gallatins could lead grizzlies to the Bridger, Bangtail and Big Belt mountains. That potential wildlife corridor could connect Yellowstone grizzlies with the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

“The fact that (grizzly bears) are coming out into all these areas of previous habitat is indicative that the population is growing,” Gehman said. “… Yellowstone and Glacier national parks are not enough area to sustain a viable population.”

Gehman said reports of grizzly bears in the Centennial Range west of Yellowstone and the Wind River Range to the south indicate that the park’s grizzly habitat is saturated and the bears are beginning to re-colonize areas of former habitat.

That’s an exciting prospect for grizzly researchers, but one that comes with added responsibility.

“I hope people will take the time learn about bears and how to behave in their presence,” Gehman said. “We live in the middle of some of the best wildlife habitat in North America. I see it as a privilege to live in a place like this, to live surrounded by wilderness and have these wild animals around us.

“That, to me, is very special and very unique. I hope it transfers into an effort to preserve it.”

Ben Pierce can be reached at bpierce@dailychronicle.com and 582-2625. Follow him online at chronicleoutdoors.com and twitter.com/BGPierce.


One Response to “Out There: Grizzlies In The Gallatin”

  1. Diamond Today Blog Says:

    Yellowstone Bear Belt…

    […] g, and by observing scat, tracks and feeding areas. A minimum of one adult femal […]…

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