The Flathead River Valley serves as a source population of grizzly bears and a vital connector for grizzly populations north and south. So important is the Flathead that scientific research on grizzlies began there in the 1970's and continues to this day. Research has demonstrated that the Flathead is home to the highest density of grizzlies anywhere in the interior of North America. Now logging, increased road access and quarrying threaten this critical habitat for grizzlies.
Grizzly bears already encounter difficulty using their habitat in the Flathead and adjacent territory. Recent research has demonstrated the difficulties facing grizzlies in the southeast Kootenays, including the Flathead. Highway 3 acts as a barrier to female movement, and only a very few males have been shown to cross the highway. The long-term implication of this will be the isolation and weakening of the grizzly populations in the southern Rocky Mountains.
Action is required if grizzly bears are to persist and thrive now and into the future. The key to grizzly bear conservation success in the Southern Rockies requires that further habitat loss be prevented, grizzly mortality be reduced by the creation of a sanctuary area in critical habitat, and that the bears' ability to cross Highway 3 be restored.
The Flathead provides irreplaceable linkage and core habitat for grizzly bears in the region. British Columbians face a crucial decision. The landscape can be converted to logging and other uses for short-term gain, or it can be retained and restored for wildlife, water quality and human enjoyment of a wild landscape. The future of grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains depends upon keeping the Flathead wild, protected and connected.
- Flathead Valley and Headwaters Area: 234,000 Hectares (ha)
- Number of Grizzlies in the Flathead area: about 100 (pers. comm. Bruce McLellan)
- Number of cubs per litter: 1-4; average: 2.66
- Years cubs stay with mother: approx. 2 years
- Age at first breeding: Females 5-5.5 years
- Lifespan in Wild Flathead: 20+ years
- Home Range Size: Males 463 sq km; Females: 104 sq km
- Average Daily Movement of a Grizzly Bear: 2.4 km
- Primary Foods: roots, forbs, fruits, rodents, ants, ungulates, carrion
- Average annual number of Flathead grizzlies killed by hunters in the Flathead: 2.9
- Length of Hwy 3 wildlife corridor: 113 km
- How to tell a grizzly from a black bear: a) hump on shoulder, b) rounded ears, c) dished face, d) shape of foot/track, and e) length of claws
- How to travel safely in bear country: a) travel in groups of three or more, b) make noise while on the trail, and c) carry and know how to use bear spray
“The Flathead valley in B.C. is the last, wide valley in southern Canada that has no permanent human settlement and thus large carnivores such as black and grizzly bears, wolves, cougar, and wolverine live and move freely throughout the entire valley and are not mostly limited to the mountains on either side.”- Bruce McLellan
“…Our results suggest that [population] connection has been severed across their entire range in southern Canada by a highway [Hwy 3] and associated settlements, limiting female and reducing male movement.” - Mike Proctor