WEST GLACIER, MONT. - Aversive conditioning (behavior conditioning) of three backcountry grizzlies (a female and her two yearling cubs) will begin this weekend and prompted park officials to close portions of backcountry trails in the areas of Morning Star and Oldman Lakes beginning today, August 5, for the duration of this management action. The trail closures are in addition to previously announced temporary campground closures at Oldman and Morning Star Lakes.
The closed trail portions are: the Pitamakan Pass Trail from the Dry Fork junction to the junction with Cut Bank Pass; and the Cut Bank Valley Trail from the Triple Divide junction to Pitamakan Pass. Dawson Pass to Pitamakan Overlook and the Cut Bank Pass will remain available to hikers.
Closing the trails is necessary to ensure that the aversive conditioning can be conducted in a controlled environment, without interrupting or altering the management actions due to hiker activity. It will also allow the bears' response to be carefully monitored.
Last week, park rangers captured, radio-collared, and released the mother of this family group. The group's location can be identified using the radio collar's signal, thereby enabling the aversive conditioning to proceed efficiently.
Karelian Bear Dogs from the Wind River Bear Institute will be used as part of the aversive conditioning to teach the bears to stay a safe distance from humans. Other aversive conditioning methods, such as yelling, cracker rounds, and rubber bullets will also be used as appropriate.
The decision to use aversive conditioning in the backcountry stems from the need to correct the bears' lack of fear around humans and their habituated behavior with the park's goal being to keep these grizzlies in this ecosystem. Further, park managers want to correct these behaviors before the yearlings separate from their mother.