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North Valley bear manager ready to hit the woods, neighborhoods

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | April 15, 2022 1:00 AM

Justine Vallieres was recently named the new Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife conflict management specialist to fill the role of longtime grizzly bear manager Tim Manley.

Vallieres worked as a technician under Manley for four years and worked under wolf biologists Kent Laudon and Diane Boyd for one year each prior to that.

She’s originally from New Hampshire and has a degree in applied animal science and wildlife from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

To date, she’s says she’s worked with about 100 grizzly bears through her tenure and learned a lot from Manley, who retired last year.

“He’s my mentor and a good friend,” she said.

Originally she wanted to work on wolf research, but said she really found her home in wildlife conflict management, working both with people and with bears.

What’s the best part of working with large animals with sharp teeth and claws?

“I love the continual learning of their behaviors and highly emotional intelligence, and I’ve always had an innate passion for the intricate and delicate relationship between large predators and humans,” she said.

In the past, Manley did most of the grizzly bear management calls across the Flathead Valley, with FWP colleague Erik Wenum taking care of the black bear calls and other conflicts.

This year, Vallieres will take calls for the north end of the valley and Wenum the south end of the valley, regardless of species.

Her territory includes Columbia Falls, the North Fork and Whitefish up to the border and to Marias Pass.

And yes, the bears are awake. She’s already had calls about black bears and radio collared grizzlies have shown movement into the valley floors.

She spoke to a couple of bear incidents from last year, including the decision to kill a North Fork grizzly named Monica and her cubs, after they tore apart campers looking for food.

She noted that sort of bear behavior is typically progressive, which is to say a bear gets a human food reward here and there and then eventually hones in on human foods as an easy meal.

Prevention goes a long way in stopping bear conflicts.

“Secure your attractants,” she noted. “Help us help you.”

That means putting garbage in bear resistant containers, not feeding pets outside, and putting electric fencing up around chickens and other stock and their foods.

The electric fencing needs to be done correctly. For example, about 10 grizzly bears last year were finding easy pickings at a local compost facility just outside the Columbia Falls city limits because the electric fencing wasn’t operating correctly.

The fence has since been fixed and bolstered and Vallieres said she doesn’t expect problems this year.

She said she’s always willing to help any landowner or homeowner with fencing and other tips.

“I’m all for helping people trying to be proactive and keep conflicts from occurring,” she said.

Folks with bear or lion problems can contact her via her cell phone at 406-250-1265.