On June 1, a pair of young grizzlies turned up at the mouth of Box Elder Creek, where it enters the south side of the Missouri River. That’s 12 miles northeast of Great Falls—and roughly where Pvt. Hugh McNeal, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, ran into a grizzly bear in July 1806, when the expedition passed through the area on its homeward journey.
It’s just the natural expansion of a healthy, growing grizzly bear population that’s putting them in closer proximity to people, FWP’s [Mike] Madel said.
“I think these bears are searching for areas to develop new home ranges,” he said.
Historically, grizzly bears occupied grasslands like Great Falls all the way to the Mississippi River but they’ve been gone for more than 100 years.
In recent years, grizzly bears have been traveling river corridors like the Sun, Marias, Dearborn and Teton rivers east of the Rocky Mountain Front to the high plains.
The expansion onto the plains has come as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population of grizzly bears of northwestern and northcentral Montana continues to recover.
The population, currently listed as threatened, is more than 1,000 bears and growing at about 2 percent a year.