Posted: May 15, 2011 10:47 PM by Kay Rossi (Great Falls)
Updated: May 16, 2011 10:12 AM
Construction jobs in Montana can face many challenges, but very seldom is a grizzly bear one of them.
In January 2010 construction crews were hard at work fixing a bridge in Bynum.
Normally freezing temps aren't typical for construction work, but this was no typical job either.
Jim Wickens is a project manager at Sletten Construction in Great Falls.
He remembered the job, saying, "This is the first one where they actually shut the job down just because there might be a grizzly bear there."
The delay was caused by grizzly bears coming out of hibernation.
Workers had to move off the job site for three months to allow the bears to pass through.
Wickens said, "I never really felt there was any danger whatsoever."
The crew knew of the delay going into the project and were likely not in any danger.
The precaution was primarily to keep from disturbing emerging bears.
Mike Madel, a Bear Manager with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, said, "The most important time seasonally that grizzly bears use river bottom habitats is the spring. That's when they feed and graze on vegetation and move up and down the river bottom."
While extended road closures can be frustrating for residents, Madel says it benefits bears.
Madel said, "There's a lot of people on the west side of the continental divide that have voiced concerns about road closures related to grizzly bear habitat use. But the truth is those road closures have helped us see the grizzly bear population increase."
The extended work however can have an effect on taxes funding projects like these.
Luckily the Bynum bridge project didn't incur too many added expenses.
Wickens said, "In this case, I don't think the additional cost was very much because we got everything done except the chip seal."
Still, bears affecting human expansion was a pretty new concept for crews.
"I'm not used to working around the bears," Wickens said with a smile.
According to Montana FWP, this type of job is not one construction crews need to get used to.
Madel said, "There might be certain places that are considered linkage zones between the northern continental divide ecosystem and the Yellowstone that would be primarily federal land where there might be some restrictions to help see connectivity between those two populations, but overall I don't see that as an issue further out."
However, Madel says it's not completely out of the question to see bears affect other land use activities like oil and gas work on federal land or logging activity.