BIGFORK—A popular annual fundraiser for Montana wildlife biologists who oversee the state’s grizzly bear population is scheduled for July 11 at Jack and Suzi Hanna’s farm near Bigfork. Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation—formerly the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Foundation—organizes the yearly event in order to give state biologists the tools and personnel they need to, among other things, manage grizzly populations in areas where populations are strong and to relocate a few grizzlies from around Kalispell to the Cabinet Mountains where numbers are low.

Jack Hanna greets guests at the 2013 GBR

 Jack Hanna is the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and celebrity wildlife expert known for taking animals on TV talk shows in order to educate people about the importance of wildlife preservation. He also hosts three TV series, including Emmy award winning “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild” and ABC’s “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown.”  The Hannas have hosted the Grizzly Bear Rendezvous for the past six years and raised a total of about $400,000 in that time, according to the foundation’s director, George Bettas.

 “As our grizzly bear numbers are increasing, the need for the bear biologists to respond to calls from the public is increasing, too,” Bettas said. “The last couple years we’ve been able to fund three bear management technicians to help grizzly bear biologists, provide fuel for vehicles and make money available for things like trail cameras and other equipment they use for collaring and tracking bears.” The money is also used to help protect bears and people’s property, given the inevitable situations that arise as grizzly bear numbers increase in populated areas.

 Most of the programs so far have centered on FWP Regions 1 and 2 (Northwest Montana down to Ravalli and Granite counties) but Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation is trying to raise enough funds this year to provide bear management techs to help in Regions 3 and 4 (southwestern Montana and the Rocky Mountain Front, respectively). Since grizzly bear and mountain lion territories often overlap in such a way that makes it convenient to carry out field work for both species, funds have also been used to fund a mountain lion inventory study. If funds permit, the foundation intends to extend other aspects of the program to include the wild cats.  

 Over the past few years, the foundation has funded paid summer internships for University of Montana wildlife students and the Legacy Foundation is planning to foster a similar relationship with Montana State University as well.

 A new twist for this year’s event includes a small art auction featuring original works donated by several regional artists. The auction will feature, among other items, an original grizzly bear oil painting by Kalispell’s Tom Saubert titled “Monarchs and Painted Ladies” and a brown-bear skull elaborately decorated by Jana Waller.

 The event will include music by Shane Clouse and his band, Stomping Ground, and will be catered by Chris Ricciardi.

 Over 250 people attended last year. Space is limited. Tickets are $100 and available HERE or by calling (406) 444-6759.