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Valley of the Predators

Locals sometimes call the North Fork area the "Valley of the Predators." Around Moss Mountain Inn we've seen grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes and lynx, not to mention some smaller predators like weasels that steal the mice our cats kill. Situated between two mountain ranges, with no commercial livestock production, and with nothing but wilderness to the north, the North Fork checks off a lot of boxes on the list of requirements for large predator sustainability.

It seems like so much published predator research comes from the Yellowstone Ecosystem, probably not exactly the most typical of Rocky Mountain ecosystems. The hundred or so wolves of Yellowstone have to be the most studied animals in the world. I have this vision of a field biologist with a radio collar tracer and a spotting scope hiding behind every tree at the edge of the Lamar Valley. So I'll proceed with some non-scientific but factual observations from the North Fork ecosystem. 
Right:  Lynx on the prowl near Moss Mountain Inn
First, predators aren't very adept at following the rules we set for them. Bears share territory and wolves hang out where they're not supposed to. We recently saw tracks of three different grizzlies in one section of Canyon Creek Road.  One of our neighbors has a video of four (yes, four, likely a mother and three grown siblings) mountain lions hunting together. We saw a pair of whitetail deer following a lynx around. What the heck were they thinking?

Speaking of following, predators like to follow people. We have been followed by bears on multiple occasions and have been followed by a wolf also. Trailing a human doesn't seem to be a stalking behavior, it seems to be more of a keeping tabs on a potential threat. Maybe they think that all humans are hunters, and we might leave a carcass behind. Maybe it's better to have a potential threat in front of you than behind you. Maybe predators are just plain curious about us. This following behavior leads to some hilarious and potentially dangerous situations. Last summer we encountered a family of four from out east on a remote trail in Glacier. As we started walking again, we saw a black bear up ahead on the trail a hundred yards or so behind the family. We wondered what the family would have thought if they had looked behind them and seen the bear following them! Out and back hikes pose another danger. Once we were coming back down from Demmer's Ridge when we surprised a large black bear who seemed confused by our change in direction. We ran into that darn bear twice more on the way down the ridge before he finally left the trail.

Finally, when is a predator really a predator? In Glacier, only 11% of a Grizzly's diet consists of meat. And that 11% is largely scavenged meat (theft from other animals, roadkill, and the like). Grizzly's don't really go on a hunt, per se, they seem to grab whatever is handy.

Bottom left:  Grizzly tracks (left) and coyote tracks (right) near Moss Mountain Inn.  Presumably the two predators weren't traveling together, but who knows?
Bottom right:  Grizzly picking some roadside berries in Glacier.  Around here, berries are a mainstay of a grizzly's diet.