The officers of the Marias River Livestock Association
Back Row: Trina Jo Bradley, Butch Gillespie, Carrie Sue Lerum, Bob Thompson
Front Row: Marvin Kimmet, Jesse Wallewein, Maggie Nutter, Paul Turner
Guest Blog by Trina Jo Bradley, Rancher on Birch Creek
Having grown up on a ranch on Dupuyer Creek, grizzly bears have always been a part of my life. As kids, my siblings and I were not allowed to leave the yard without our dog and at least two of us together, and even then we couldn’t be out of shouting distance in case we ran into a bear.
We always traveled as a pack – no one was ever alone because it just wasn’t safe. I remember several times we had to quit picking chokecherries in a hurry because a bear was suddenly competing with us for the same bush, or a fishing excursion would get cut short because of what we heard on the other side of the creek.
My mom always grew a huge garden, and it would get raided weekly by bears, but they’d leave in a hurry when the lights came on and the guns and dog came out. Grizzlies used to be more afraid back then.
Now I’m grown up, and I have a daughter and a ranch of my own to protect on Birch Creek. And boy, do we have more than our share of bears.
When my father-in-law purchased our ranch in 1956, seeing a grizzly was rare anywhere on the creek. Now, going one day WITHOUT seeing a grizzly is a treat.
My daughter’s childhood play is being stolen from her by grizzlies. As an adventurous ranch girl, she should be able to explore the creek, make forts in the buffalo berry bushes, ride her horse anywhere, etc., but she can’t. It’s just not safe.
Her entire life, she’s had to play outside only when supervised, and absolutely not after 6 p.m. We can’t go for walks because the bears are roaming around at all hours of the day and night. She can’t even walk over to the corral to see her horse without always having the possibility of a run-in.
I took my daughter for a walk one day so she could ride her bike – midday is usually napping time for bears. We took the dog, of course, and as we were walking the dog started growling and we headed back to the house in a hurry. Next morning, there was a huge pile of scat in the road right where the dog had warned us the afternoon before.
We tried to have a garden, but after my daughter and I ran straight into a grizzly on our way to move the sprinkler one evening, we scrapped that. Now we grow a few vegetables in the flower boxes next to the house and call it good.
My daughter has had nightmares since she was two years old – always the same subject: grizzlies. She has slept with a board over her bedroom window since she was three because she is so afraid the bears are going to come in and get her. She’s almost nine now, and she’s still terrified.
Earlier this summer, while playing a board game after dinner, we were alerted by our dog to two bears in the yard – one by our picnic table, one by my daughter’s swingset. They weren’t scared of the dog, or of us. It was 6:30 p.m. We could have easily been outside playing like a normal family, but instead we’re sentenced to a life imprisoned inside our house in the summer just to avoid confrontations with grizzlies.
I am not telling you all of this to scare you. I’m telling you this because it’s real – grizzlies are at the top of the food chain, and in order to survive where they live, we have to make sacrifices. It’s not fair, especially to my daughter, but it’s life. It’s time to take this problem seriously. The bears are moving out on the prairie, and they are well conditioned to life with humans and they’re not afraid.
Trina Jo Bradley
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is organizing a "bear aware" Neighbor Network, asking people to join a telephone tree. I've asked to be put on it. Few bears have been seen right inside the town, but tracks and scat have been found. Mostly the grizzes are showing up on ranches just outside town.
Sorry this is sideways, but it won't be very useful to you unless you live here.
I've never known how many locals read this blog.
But the same brochure is pretty well distributed.
Dupuyer has always had bear visitors because they are on a stream that makes a bear highway right up into the mountains. In the Sixties I remember a couple of bicycle campers had a scare at the little park next to town and were still all excited when they reached the Scriver Studio in Browning, hours away. They were pedalling adrenaline. Hard-sided campers would be okay. It's ideal habitat for small animals and bears and one should also watch for deer crossing.
Dupuyer is where Ivan Doig actually grew up, though he attended high school in Valier. In those years he was boarding with a Dupuyer family. Beside the highway are small family businesses whose fortunes vary, but you won't be hurried along.
"On June 27, the small town of Dupuyer honored Doig’s larger-than-life stories by celebrating the installment of his memorial highway. Doig died in April of 2015 at the age of 75.
"The dedication celebration was held at Dupuyer Community Hall where about 50 people gathered to pay tribute to Doig and his lasting legacy. Doig grew up in the area and graduated from Valier High School in 1957.
"The Dupuyer Community Club and Montana Department of Transportation worked to dedicate part of Highway 89 to the author. The memorial stretches from the intersection of Highway 44 south to the intersection of Highway 219 near Pendroy. The road, much like his books, flaunts the Rocky Mountain landscape."
Attitudes about grizzlies on the East Slope are quite different from those in the Eastern Montana cities or the West Side, partly because there are more bears than philosophers on the East Slope. A bear relaxing across one's porch steps is not the same thing as academics considering abstract relationships with nature.
The only approach that works, it seems to me, is ecological on a small scale. This means that federal rules about protected species are too universal to be meaningful but (as in many other issues) the micro-management responses of traps, relocation, modifying the habitat, electrifying special attractions like beehives, phone tree alert systems, and just eliminating fearless and dangerous bears -- maybe right on the spot -- are vulnerable to social pressure that can disable them.
The first notice on the phone tree went out early this morning. A sow and two this year's cubs were on the airport field at midnight. Headlights picked up their eyes. It's just up the street from me. They went back along the lakeshore. The word went out on Facebook before the phone tree!