Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal wildlife managers are reeling after a weekend crash on U.S. 93 left a sow grizzly bear and two cubs of the year dead and a third cub orphaned.
The sow and cubs were struck and killed by a car south of Ronan, in the 13-mile stretch of Highway 93 through the Ninepipe/Kicking Horse area.
The deaths brought to 26 the number of grizzly bears already killed this year in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, 12 caused by highway crashes.
The deaths come as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepares for a planned September announcement proposing that the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzlies be removed from Endangered Species Act protections.
In a Facebook post, the CSKT bear biologists included a photograph of the dead grizzly sow and cubs, saying “We realize this image invokes strong emotions in people, it does for us too.”
“The particular female has been collecting data for us on her movements around the Flathead Indian Reservation,” the biologists reported. “We are saddened to see her and her two cubs were killed on U.S. 93.
“Grizzly bears (as well as black bears, deer, elk, mountain lions and bobcats) are frequently and specifically at night moving across the Mission Valley. They are probably less aware of the highway at night as they are moving through their travel routes.”
Friday’s crash occurred at 11 p.m.
Biologists later found a third cub that was not struck in the highway crossing, but is now orphaned with the sow’s death. The cub was captured over the weekend and the tribe will attempt to find it a new home at a zoo.
Grizzlies are starting to disperse into the area west of U.S. 93, according to tribal biologists, so the bears are likely to be crossing the highway more often than in the past.
The dispersal, the tribe said, “is a good thing but comes with dangers when encountering vehicles.”
The tribe warned motorists on the heavily traveled route that the area is dense with wildlife, any of which could “walk in front of your vehicle (or into the side of your vehicle) at any time, especially through the Ninepipe/Kicking Horse area.”
While the CSKT has worked with the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to build a number of wildlife crossings – underpasses and overpasses – on the Flathead Reservation, U.S. 93 through the Ninepipe area was not rebuilt and has no wildlife crossings.
Four grizzly bears have been killed in car crashes on that section of Highway 93 so far in 2018.
“Highway reconstruction is a big project, crossing structures do cost money, and there are various other factors that come into play,” CSKT officials said in their Facebook post reporting the sow and cubs’ deaths. “We hope to see movement on reconstruction projects with adequate and appropriate sized crossing structures start again soon.”
“We encourage drivers, locals and visitors, to be cautious when driving through the Flathead Indian Reservation,” the post continued. “All our wildlife resources are important to us as are the lives of the people traveling through. These accidents are not only about being aware and slowing down.
“Wildlife are unpredictable and short, dark-colored bears crossing U.S. 93 at night can be next to impossible to see until it is too late traveling at highway speed. Deer are potential hazards as well.”