grizzly

Three hunters were injured in two separate grizzly bear attacks on the west side of the Gravelly Mountains earlier this week.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in a news release that the three hunters suffered “moderate to severe injuries” in the attacks, which happened Monday.

The two attacks happened in the Cottonwood Creek area west of Black Butte, on the Ruby River side of the range. Both incidents involved a single bear, but state officials are unsure whether the same bear was involved.

Leona Rodreick, spokeswoman for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, said officials plan to close Cottonwood Creek Road.

The first attack happened around 7:30 a.m. Monday, the release said. Two men were heading south from Cottonwood Creek when they were charged by a bear. Both hunters were hurt but managed to drive the bear away. They received medical treatment in Ennis.

The next attack was about 11 hours later. Around 6:30 p.m., two men were heading north toward Cottonwood Creek when a bear charged. Only one of the hunters was hurt. He was treated in Sheridan and later in Butte.

The incidents are still under investigation. Morgan Jacobsen, an FWP spokesman, said game wardens were visiting the area on Tuesday to gather more information about the attacks.

A key takeaway from the incidents, he said, is that hunters shouldn’t wander into the woods alone.

“The prevailing lesson learned here is hunting with a partner can save your life in many cases,” Jacobsen said.

Fall is the time of year when incidents like this pop up. Bears are out looking for protein, and hunters are beginning to wander into their territory. That can lead to them crossing paths, and sometimes to bears seeking hunter’s leftovers, said Kevin Frey, a bear specialist for FWP.

Frey added that the incidents illustrate the westward expansion of grizzly bears in southwestern Montana — moving from the West Yellowstone and upper Gallatin areas to other mountain ranges farther west.

“For the last 10 odd years the grizzly numbers in the Gravellies have increased,” Frey said, adding that the animals are now “pretty common in any drainage up there.”

He added that they’re showing up more often in the Ruby River drainage, which is the major watershed on the western side of the Gravellies. He also said bear activity was high this summer in the Centennial Valley, near the Idaho border.

The incidents follow other trail closures around the region related to grizzly bears feeding on animal carcasses. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest closed the Teepee Creek and Lobo Mesa areas at the end of August because grizzlies were feeding on cow carcasses. The cows died after eating larkspur. That closure has since been lifted.

Forest officials closed the Buffalo Horn Trail south of Big Sky this past weekend because of grizzly activity. Frey said a hunting party’s horse got sick and died on the trail.

Bear tracks were around, he said, so they decided to shutter the trail for public safety. Officials will monitor the area until the carcass is cleaned up.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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