By Michael Howell
The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Foundation is holding its Grizzly Bear Rendezvous 2013 along the shores of Flathead Lake at the home of Jack and Suzi Hanna in Bigfork again this year. Money raised at the event goes to help wildlife biologists and grizzly bear specialists count the noses and toes of grizzly bear throughout Montana as well as for ongoing grizzly bear research and population counts.
Jack Hanna is the famous wildlife television host who regularly visits news and celebrity television shows with exotic wildlife to the delight of the audience and hosts, wearing his distinctive leather hat. The Hannas have hosted the Grizzly Bear Rendezvous at their private home for five years and also contribute equipment and cash for ongoing grizzly bear research.
Hanna and top grizzly bear experts from around Montana and North America will answer questions and explain their programs before, during and after the meal catered by Flathead Lake Lodge. Montana’s Old-Time Fiddle Champion Tiffany Boucher, her mother Jennifer and her brother Cody of Sheridan, Montana, will provide toe-tapping dance music.
“More bears and more people drive the need for more professionals to manage the bears,” said Stevensville resident and MFWPF Executive Director George Bettas about the organization’s fundraising efforts. Bettas, who has directed the organization for the last two years, said as more humans expand into grizzly habitat and the grizzly populations expand, programs to keep bear, human and livestock conflicts to a minimum become more critical.
Bettas said that money raised by MFWPF at Grizzly Bear Rendezvous will fund three key elements related to the recovery of grizzly bears in Montana.
The first element is augmentation of grizzly bears to the Cabinet Mountains. He said this program was begun as a test program by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After a successful trial period, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency took over the program and the Foundation began funding it.
“This involves trapping and moving two to three bears annually to the Cabinet Mountains where there is good habitat but insufficient bear densities for delisting,” said Bettas. “We move female bears and occasionally a male bear to add to the population there.”
Secondly, said Bettas, the money goes to management efforts. “We assist with the trapping and moving of bears that get into people’s bird feeders, garbage cans, animal foods, and the like to keep the bears from being habituated to human/livestock foods. This effort also has an educational component where we educate people about how to keep their properties clean and reduce bear attractants. This year we are helping with the fencing of garbage collection sites as well as providing bear resistant garbage containers from a grant we received for this purpose.”
“Finally, we are assisting with the research involving trend monitoring of the grizzly bear population in Regions 1 and 2,” said Bettas. “We do this by placing new tracking collars on bears which we trap and which are involved in the trend monitoring research.”
Unlike many non-profits that focus on purchase of property for wildlife, MFWPF provides vital salaries and vehicle fuel and equipment purchases for three grizzly bear management technicians and two University of Montana wildlife interns, thanks in large part to the annual Grizzly Bear Rendezvous.
The 2012 Grizzly Rendezvous at the Hannas’ home raised just short of $70,000 and organizers hope the 2013 Rendezvous will be as successful. Since 1999, MFWPF has raised $1.5 million for grizzly bear management, including money for the Montana Grizzly Bear Recovery Enhancement Project.
This year’s rendezvous will take place Friday, July 12 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Bigfork home of Jack and Suzi Hanna. Reservations are required in advance of the event by calling or e-mailing (406) 444-6759 and firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Space is limited.
When the grizzly bear was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “threatened” in 1975 in the lower 48 states, an estimate of 130 to 300 grizzly bears remained from a population high of 50,000 grizzly bears in the 1800s. Today, the estimated grizzly population throughout the lower 48 states is 1,700, half of which live in Montana.
Bettas said that delisting of the grizzly was expected within the next few years and that the work of professional grizzly bear managers to reduce human conflict would become ever more important.