GREAT FALLS — Wildlife officials and the residents of the Blackfoot Valley community are working together to wrap up details of last month's deadly attack by a grizzly bear on a woman in Ovando.
The July 6th attack killed 65-year old Leah Davis Lokan of Chico, California. The bear entered Ovando that morning and came to an area near the post office at about 3 a.m., where the victim was sleeping in a tent. Another couple in her party were sleeping in a tent nearby. The bear woke the campers but then ran away. The three campers removed food from their tents, secured it, and went back to bed. A video camera at a business less than a block away recorded the bear in the vicinity at about 3:15 a.m. At about 3:30 a.m. the two people in the tent adjacent to the victim were awakened by sounds of the attack. They got out of the tent and sprayed the bear with bear spray. The bear pulled the victim from the tent during the fatal attack.
The Powell County Sheriff's Office received a report on July 9th from a resident who came home and found her door ripped off, and large claw marks were present. A short time later a male grizzly bear was shot and killed in the area. Samples were taken from the bear and sent to a testing facility, where officials confirmed it was the bear that killed Lokan. The DNA samples from the bear, saliva sample at the scene of the attack, and samples from two chicken coops that were raided in the area all match up, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
All of the information from the investigation will be sent on to the FWP Board of Review, a group of wildlife staff from federal and state agencies assembled to look at the details of all human-bear attacks and record them in a final report. The board will release its final report, containing all details of this Ovando case sometime later this year. It will be available for review on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website.
FWP director Hank Worsech said in a news release, “The local Blackfoot community came together from the first moments of this incident to do all it could to help. This is a tight knit group of people with a long history of working together to do what they can to address the challenges of having bears in the watershed. Coming together to help and process the events of this incident has been no exception.”
Wildlife officials from FWP, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and USDA Wildlife Services have put together more details from the case indicating the 417-pound male grizzly was six years old. It was a healthy weight, but lean, which is typical of bears at this point in the summer season just before they begin heavily foraging in preparation for a long winter with minimal food. It had a wound on its shoulder that is often characteristic for male bears during their annual breeding season, which typically runs from May through July.
The bear had no history of conflicts but was likely drawn to town in search of food.
Ovando sits in the upper Blackfoot Valley, an area with a long history of grizzly bears and of cooperative efforts between landowners, wildlife agency employees, and community members to develop ways to live with bears that reduce impacts to livestock operations and maximize human safety. Grizzly bears are common in the Blackfoot Valley, but events that result in human injury or death are extremely rare. The only other fatal attack by a grizzly bear in the Blackfoot Valley in the past 50 years was an elk hunter in 2001.
“Grizzly bear distribution in the area has continued to expand through the years,” said Hilary Cooley, USFWS Montana-based Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator. “And as bears expand their range and the population grows in some places, there are a lot of people in the Blackfoot that consistently come together to figure out how to resolve issues and find creative solutions for working and living with bears. These efforts have been remarkable.”
The area is part of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which is a biologically recovered population of grizzly bears. Because bears are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), special rules govern what landowners and others can do.
It is legal for people to kill bears in self-defense or in defense of others, if it is reported within five days to a state or federal agency. However, killing or wounding a bear for any other reason is not allowed under the ESA, except by a federal, state, or tribal agency. The USFWS has provided guidance on legal methods that livestock owners, homeowners and the public can use to deter bears from using areas near homes or property.
Human safety around bears is a relevant topic in the Blackfoot Valley and beyond. This time of year, when bears are just starting to be more active, foraging for food ahead of the winter, FWP works to remind residents, recreationists and hunters of bear safety tips such as:
- Be aware of your surroundings and look for bear sign.
- Read signs at trailheads and stay on trails. Be especially careful around creeks and in areas with dense brush.
- Carry bear spray. Know how to use it and be prepared to deploy it immediately.
- Travel in groups whenever possible and make casual noise, which can help alert bears to your presence.
- Stay away from animal carcasses, which often attract bears.
- Follow food storage orders from the applicable land management agency.
- If you encounter a bear, never approach it. Back away slowly and leave the area.