Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has opened some grizzly bear habitat to wolf hunting.

Late Monday, FWP announced that wolf trapping is now allowed in some occupied grizzly bear habitat in west, northwest and south-central Montana due to “reduced grizzly bear activity.”

In northwest Montana, that includes hunting districts 101-104 and 120-124 in the region west of Highway 93 and the Flathead Reservation and slightly north of Interstate 90. This country surrounds the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery area where biologists have two collared bears that were still active as of last week. This week, the two radio signals showed bears at or in dens.

Hunting Districts 101 and 102 along the Canadian border are also considered lynx protection zones. Wolf snares are not allowed on public land in lynx protection zones.
As of Monday, 23 wolves have been killed in Region 1 of a quota of 195.

Around Missoula in Region 2, grizzly habitat south of I-90 is now open to wolf trapping including hunting districts 210-217 from Rock Creek over to the Deer Lodge Valley.
Southeast Montana in Region 5 including northeastern districts adjacent to Yellowstone National Park are also open.

As of Monday, 28 wolves have been killed in Region 2 of a quota of 116.
Grizzly bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act from being injured or killed by hunters or trappers.

To protect grizzly bears that have not yet denned for hibernation, the FWP commission approved a floating start date for wolf trapping in grizzly bear habitat. Biologists decide when bears are safe in their dens based on sightings and radio-collar information. The latest start date is Dec. 31.

Some bears are still active so all other areas in western Montana are still closed to trapping to prevent possible capture or injury to grizzly bears that are still out looking for food.

In Region 1, that’s everything east of Highway 93 is still closed. As of last week, six of 12 collared bears were still active. This week, that’s down to three, including one in the Swan Valley, another in Columbia Falls and one in the North Fork of the Flathead River.

The area in Region 2 east of Missoula and north of I-90 is still closed to trapping. This area is also a lynx protection zone. As of last week, biologists reported bears were still active around hunters’ gut piles in the Blackfoot and Clearwater drainages.

Bear biologist Jamie Jonkel said two weeks ago that bears in Region 2 don’t tend to be fully denned until just before Christmas. This week, all his collared bears are denned but other bears are still out, including a sow with cubs near the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Bison Range and a grizzly investigating a cabin on the Swan-Clearwater Divide.

This summer, Region 2 biologists captured a young grizzly bear in the Bitterroot region that was missing a foot. Meanwhile, a bear foot had been found in the mountains above Grant Creek. Such an injury could have been caused by a trap. Jonkel said biologists had to put the bear down because the leg was infected.

In October, University of British Columbia biologists trapping grizzly bears for research reported finding bears with missing toes. When the researchers discussed the issue with hunters and trappers, they learned that bears had been getting caught in small traps set for weasels, martens and other furbearers.

So they conducted a research project using trail cameras and baited traps that didn’t close all the way. The footage showed bears putting their paws and noses on the traps. Grizzly bears visited all the traps, and two of the traps were even set off.

With real traps, the researchers believe traps cause bears’ toes to fall off over a period of several painful months. While most of the bears could go on with normal lives, they face a lot of pain and could have challenges with digging or protecting themselves.

“I’m most concerned about the overall welfare of those individual bears,” UBC researcher Clayton Lamb told The Wildlife Society. “It’s not a population concern, but it’s still a concern. I think causing that level of suffering is not something that aligns with most of our land ethics.”

Lamb proposed delaying British Columbia’s fall trapping season by two weeks until bears denned in late November and early December. But Lamb said some trappers have opposed that idea.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at