830-Pound Bear Found Near Lincoln, Montana

Grizzly Killed by Pickup: The Photos

By Matthew Frank, 11-06-07

  Photos courtesy of Dennis Smrdel. Editor's Note: Some of these photos first appeared in the Blackfoot Valley Dispatch

Sometimes the weight of a news story isn’t fully felt until pictures ground the abstract. In this case, it’s pictures of a dead 830-pound grizzly bear, hit by a pickup truck on Highway 200 near Lincoln, Montana, about three weeks ago.

The photographs that accompany this story were taken by Dennis Smrdel October 17th. That morning, at about 3:45, a logger driving a big Dodge diesel en route to Missoula hit something, but he wasn’t sure what, and he kept going. But a few miles later, after realizing his radiator was shot, he thought it best to turn around. He arrived back at a massive male grizzly dead in a ditch. A couple people had already discovered it.

It turned out the grizzly was one well known to some folks who live in the area, particularly the Smrdels, who reside smack in the middle of a major wildlife travel corridor just west of Lincoln. Fish, Wildlife & Parks set up a trap on his property in hopes of catching this bear. It had been up to some mischief, nosing around and breaking into his pump house three times. FWP bear specialist Jamie Jonkel said it had mastered “the art of breaking and entering” and “walking the gravy train.”

The bear, a healthy 12-year-old, was killed just a quarter-mile from the Smrdel’s, about at the Powell County sign on 200, and Dennis’s hunch is that the bear was making another trip back to his property.

“I’d have much rather seen him get caught (in the trap) and placed somewhere else,” Dennis said, “than dead on the highway.”

“It was a huge animal, a beautiful animal.”

The bear was originally captured in 1996 along the Rocky Mountain Front as part of a research study, as evidenced by its lip tattoo, and radio-collared until 1998 when the bear “went off the air,” Jonkel said. Hair samples showed that the bear made its way into the Blackfoot region by 2004, and Jonkel suspects—and hopes—it’s the same grizzly responsible for other area outbuilding break-ins last fall.

Jonkel said if a grizzly had to die he’s glad it was one that probably would have been put down anyway because of its habituation to human property. And he thinks the grizzly has helped residents in and around this wildlife corridor better understand their actions and how they affect bears. “It’s a good learning process for everyone,” Jonkel said. “It’s opened up their eyes as to how unique their property is.”

There’s been a lot of grizzly activity in the Lincoln area this year: on the Smrdel property alone, a trail camera has taken pictures of four different individuals, plus a female grizzly that was inadvertently caught in the trap, not on camera, Jonkel said. He said a bear’s range changes slightly each year depending on factors that affect its food supply, like drought.

And all too often humans affect that food supply, too. In Lincoln Canyon there are a handful of people with “big elk and deer feeding programs” that attract bears, Jonkel said. Plus there are the less-deliberate attractants, like bird feeders, garbage and pet food. In the midst of this heightened bear activity, residents are being more mindful; the Smrdels, for instance, have removed their salt lick, which can “create false game pockets,” Jonkel said.

The fewer unnatural attractants, “the better off it is for the wildlife in that area,” Jonkel said.

So what happens to the grizzly? Dennis hopes that the people of Lincoln can keep the bear at the Lincoln Ranger Station for educational purposes—so kids can learn, for example, “What to do and what not to do when you encounter a bear.”

Jonkel said there are multiple people on the waiting list for a grizzly hide, and they don’t always go where they deserve to, but, he said, “I have a feeling it will end up in the Lincoln Community based on the education that has already occurred there.”

“You can see pictures,” Dennis said, “but until you see one in person you don’t have a clue.”

Editor’s note: This story originally reported that the bear weighed about 700 pounds. Since then, wildlife officials upped that to 830 pounds.