Perennial Sign of Spring: First Bear Sighting in Glacier National Park

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Date: March 24, 2009
Contact: Amy Vanderbilt, 406 888-5838

WEST GLACIER, MONT.  – The first sign of spring in northwest Montana is arguably the return of the Varied Thrush to pine forests and the Western Meadowlark to the valley floors, but for many, the perennial sign of spring is the first sighting of a bear. With spring’s arrival, it is fitting that two east side park employees observed a large, dark grizzly bear Thursday, March 19, from a safe distance, as they walked along Going-to-the-Sun Road near St. Mary Campground. So, people aren’t the only ones getting out and about.

The beginning of spring coincides with the first emergence of bears from their dens, both grizzly and black bears. Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright remarked, “With this March sighting, park visitors are reminded to be alert for bear activity and to be familiar with and comply with safety regulations.”

Traditionally, males are the first to emerge, usually in mid-March; females tend to emerge slightly later. Once they emerge, bears roam widely in search of food, such as winter-killed animal carcasses, and will aggressively protect a food source. Females will also fiercely defend their cubs. In addition to grizzly bears, Glacier National Park is also home to black bears.

Recreational visitors should travel in groups and make loud noise by calling out and/or clapping their hands at frequent intervals, especially near streams and at blind spots and curves on trails. These actions will help avoid surprise encounters. Do not approach any wildlife; instead, use binoculars, telescopes, or telephoto lenses to get closer looks.

Visitors are also reminded to keep food and other attractants stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes. Garbage must be deposited into a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster. These actions help keep bears from becoming conditioned to human food, and help keep park visitors and their personal property safe.

Cartwright noted, “Bear pepper spray has proven to be a good last line of defense for visitors who have familiarized themselves with its operation and keep it immediately accessible for ready use as a deterrent. It is critical that people do not develop a false sense of security by carrying bear pepper spray. Visitors need to continue to take precautions to avoid an encounter.”

Visitors should report any bear sightings or signs of bear activity to the nearest visitor center, ranger station or by calling 406-888-7800 as soon as possible. This information helps park rangers keep bears away from unnatural food sources, as well as prevents bears from becoming habituated to humans.

Cartwright further noted, “While feeding of any wildlife is illegal in Glacier National Park, this recent bear sighting also serves as a reminder to park neighbors that the winter practice of feeding birds should be suspended, as emerging bears in the spring can be attracted to bird feeders as a food source.”

Although safety recommendations for foot travel while in bear country tend to receive more attention, there are other natural hazards that recreational users should be aware of and be prepared for when they venture outdoors. Even though famed naturalist and conservationist John Muir once said, "It is far safer to wander into God's woods than to travel on black highways or to stay at home," Glacier National Park can be filled with many potential dangers. “We want everyone to have a safe experience while they visit and enjoy the park.” Go to the park’s web page at for details about: Bears, Water, Wildlife, Mountain Lions and Watch Your Step.

Whether in Glacier National Park or elsewhere in the wilds of Montana, people need to be aware of potential risks and be prepared with knowledge, proper equipment and common sense to have a safe and enjoyable experience.  Although grizzly bears tend to grab headlines, water-related accidents are the number one cause of accidental death at Glacier such as falling into water from a slippery rock on stream bank. “These potential hazards are not mentioned to scare people but rather to remind everyone to be prepared, be familiar with their equipment and know their personal limitations.  Glacier National Park is a wonderland to explore and experience during each of its many seasons, but we want park visitors to have a safe outing,” concluded Cartwright.

- NPS -

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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