Grizzly bear in Glacier National Park. Photo: Dave Hopkins

“All park visitors want to be rangers, and all rangers want to be bear techs,” jokes Glacier Bear Technician Chris Martin.

Thanks to donor support, the Glacier Conservancy is providing funding in 2024 for two bear technician positions in Glacier National Park. Additional funding allows for the purchase of gear and equipment, enabling technicians to do their jobs safely and efficiently. 

So what exactly does a day in the life of a bear technician in Glacier National Park look like? Glacier National Park Conservancy Grants Coordinator Grace Kinzler had the special opportunity to see Conservancy funding in action and joined east-side wildlife biologist Steve Cross and technician Chris Martin to find out.

Our day begins on an early summer morning in St. Mary. The Hudson Bay Ranger district is slowly coming to life, as rangers mill about preparing for a busy day in Glacier. Steve and Chris greet everyone they pass and take this time to check in with rangers who share wildlife sightings and reports – this is just one of the ways the bear techs collect valuable information, helping them monitor and address potential situations as soon as possible.

“We’re constantly interacting with other divisions either to get tools or information, or any number of things. Just being personable goes a long way,” says Chris.

Steve and Chris work with a team of three bear technicians based on the east-side of Glacier National Park. With ten years of combined bear handling experience, the trust and respect that has been built between this duo is evident – intangible qualities which are crucial to the success and safety of any bear management program. On any given day, Steve and Chris could be responding to wildlife incident reports, patrolling the backcountry for bear activity, educating park staff and visitors on bear safety, or all of the above.

People gather around a lit up sheet to view moths.

Wildlife biologist Steve Cross and technician Chris Martin conduct a tutorial on proper bear spray deployment for park staff. (Disclaimer: Tutorial bear spray is inert. Do not bear spray yourself or others.)

In addition to those daily tasks, Glacier’s bear technicians conduct research to monitor long-term grizzly bear population trends in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). Using bear traps, technicians safely capture and tranquilize sow grizzly bears to collect biological samples and apply GPS-tracking collars before releasing them back into the wild. The data collected from the collars allows biologists to better understand seasonal movement patterns, monitor behaviors, and track annual birth rates – reproductive information that has been essential in informing management policies that promote the health and longevity of grizzlies across the NCDE where the population has been steadily increasing since 2006.

After checking out the bear trap, we set out on a hike to view an inactive bear den, the location of which they knew thanks to GPS collar data. At the den Steve and Chris set up spotting scopes to look for nesting golden eagles. Multitasking while on backcountry patrols is another necessary skill for a bear tech, as part of their job involves conducting wildlife surveys and contributing data to research studies. “Hiking and surveying and being out in the field is why I got into this job,” says Steve.

Hand holding a transparent box with a moth.

Chris demonstrates telemetry technology, an on-the-ground transmission system used to track GPS-collars in the field. 

On our hike out, a call comes in from a ranger in Two Medicine looking for instruction on how to deal with a wily fox near the camp store. Calls like this are frequent, and in this less urgent case Chris can provide instruction to help manage the situation over the phone. With sometimes several reports coming in daily from all over the east-side’s half a million acres, prioritizing responsibilities and managing time is a challenge. 

“It’s a battle in time management and being super efficient. We’re constantly working to get everything done, trying to keep up as best we can with limited resources”, says Steve.

Close up of a geometer moth.

Chris leads a bear safety training for park staff.

To cap off an already impressive day, we continue north to Many Glacier to assess the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail closure where a grizzly had been feeding on a moose carcass for the past few weeks. For naturally occurring wildlife behavior like this, technicians try not to intervene and instead take precautions like closing trails to let nature take its course while keeping visitors safe. Enough time had passed with no bear sightings that Steve and Chris felt confident the bear had finished feeding and they may soon be able to reopen the trail for visitor access, but first they had to move in for a closer look.

The bear techs recruited a pair of Law Enforcement officers for scoping assistance, and after careful planning and precaution Steve and Chris set out to survey the carcass. From the shore of the the Many Glacier Hotel the officers watched for bear activity and seeing none, gave Steve and Chris the all clear to move in, locate what little remained of the carcass, and set about its removal. Having accomplished their mission, the duo arrived back safely at the hotel, greeted by a sizable crowd that had formed on the porch. The whole operation was incredibly cool and exciting, and in that moment I, too, wanted to be a Glacier bear tech.

After a thrilling ten hour work day, we leave Many Glacier to return to St. Mary, ready to kick our feet up and call it a night. On the drive back, Steve gets a call from a park employee with a report of a bear sighting near Lost Lake – it seems like there could be another moose carcass situation on his hands soon. Just like that, Steve is back on the clock as he jets off to assess the situation. It’s just another day as a bear technician in Glacier National Park.

Close up of a geometer moth.

Caption: NPS Bear Technicians Chris, Maren, and Josh in a bear trap. (Disclaimer: Do not enter bear traps in Glacier National Park.)

How can you help Bear management in Glacier?

This project and many other critical projects and programs would not be possible without your donations to the Glacier Conservancy.

Donate now to support important work like this in Glacier National Park!

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