On the edge of Yellowstone National Park, in the Tom Minor Basin of the Gallatin Mountains, a group of grizzly bears has been drawing crowds.
In the early mornings and late evenings at least three sows, with three cubs each, ramble out of the aspens and willows, through the Ancient White Park cattle, and begin digging for biscuitroot and other roots. The cattle seem totally unfazed by the bruins in their midst.
Historically, a bear or two grazes in the area each fall, so there is a generational knowledge to go to that area when more traditionally used areas are low in food.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Spokesperson Andrea Jones said that because of last winter’s weather: “There is a limited food source of things like berries at higher elevation drawing the bears down to this private property.”
“This is not unusual bear behavior, just digging for roots,” Jones said.
About 900 yards away from the bears, people line up most nights to watch the grizzlies. Spotting scopes are locked into their tripods and binoculars are passed around as wildlife watchers get ready for the nightly show.
The bears don’t disappoint. Moms and cubs wander and dig in a state of hyperphagia — a period of excessive eating and drinking to fatten for hibernation. Occasionally, a cub will stand on its hind legs, and seemingly, look right at its admirers.
“It’s really amazing to see so many grizzly bears in one place,” said bear watcher Debbie Earl from Livingston, “It’s a unique opportunity that I am glad I get to share with my son.”
The bears are likely to hang around for a few more weeks according to Jones, but soon they will find a place to hole up for the winter, bellies full of biscuitroot.
Jones reminds viewers that grizzly bears are wild animals and people should stay in their cars and not approach the bears.
“You could be watching bears in one direction and another bear could come from behind,” Jones said.
From the Great Falls Tribune, October 6, 2015