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Grizzlies in the Sapphire Mountains

Grizzly bears are on the move and establishing new ground in Montana, which means they're one step closer to reconnecting the Yellowstone grizzly population with their northern cousins.

In the spring of 2012, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were getting reports of grizzly sightings in the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula, Montana. At the time, there was no physical evidence to prove that the sightings were grizzlies but the reports have since been confirmed.

“We found grizzly tracks in the south end of the Sapphire range,” says Jaimie Jonkel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist. “While it is hard to determine exactly how many grizzlies are in the area, we believe that two or three male grizzlies make their way into the Sapphire's annually,” he concludes.

Jonkel suggests that the grizzly population living in the Blackfoot area, north of the Bitterroot Valley are recovering and expanding their range farther south. He adds that Yellowstone grizzlies, males in particular, have been found making their way into the Centennial Range and the Tobacco Range, north-west of Yellowstone National Park.

For many years the Yellowstone grizzly population has been isolated from its northern cousins, leaving the population at risk of inbreeding. But this combination of activity, from both northern and southern grizzlies, is a positive sign that grizzlies are closing the gap and reconnecting.

“We are excited to see signs of recovery for grizzly bear populations," says Rebecca Lloyd, Y2Y's US Director of Conservation Science and Action." These first bears show us that connected populations are still possible, and that our efforts over the last decade to maintain connectivity can be successful with the continuing work of the diverse groups of partners and collaborations across the region.”

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