Montana officials confirmed that a lone grizzly bear was recently spotted in the Pryor Mountains about 30 miles south of Billings. The sighting is the first since the 1800s and state biologists say it’s “likely a young male,” according to the Cowboy State Daily.
The Pryor Mountains are adjacent to an area in Wyoming where there is a long-standing rumor that grizzlies roam there; however, none have officially been spotted. Retired federal ecologist Chuck Neal said that the bear probably came from the grizzly bear population known in Montana’s Beartooth range as “sub-adult male grizzlies are known to strike out on their own” to establish their own territory.
“There’s been a breeding resident population of grizzlies on the east face of the Beartooths for years now, for decades,” said Neal. “The distance from the east face of the Beartooths to the west side of the Pryors is maybe 20 miles.”
There is the potential for a new grizzly bear population to establish in the area depending on whether humans accept the newcomers. Obviously, to do that, there would need to be female grizzlies in the same area, which Neal says could be only a few years from now.
“As a rule — and nothing is a hard and fast rule in wildlife biology — but as a general rule, when bears expand their occupied range, the females are five years behind the males,” said Neal.
Even so, it would still take years to establish grizzlies in the region.
“Creation of a population there would require females,” said bear biologist Chris Servheen. “While a population in the area might be possible, it would be a long time until such a thing would happen.”
For some, grizzlies would be welcomed.
“The Crow Indian Tribe has stated they would like to see grizzlies expand their range,” said Neal.
However, the grizzly bear could just be passing through on its way to the Bighorn Range or onward. It’s really a guess if the bear will settle in the area or just keep moving.
“The Pryors are essentially part of the Bighorns. The ranges are separated only by the Bighorn River canyon. It’s quite an obstacle, but grizzly bears are highly skilled at getting around obstacles,” said Neal.