Being bear aware in Montana
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear-management specialists are reminding the public about bears loading up on food before winter.
The majority of calls that FWP receives about bears are the direct result of garbage and other food-related bear attractants, says Jamie Jonkel, FWP bear management specialist in Missoula. "We can save a lot of bears' lives simply by eliminating their access to garbage and other food-related bear attractants,"Jonkel said. "When an individual or a community makes that commitment, they create safer communities and prevent bears from having to be destroyed."
Anything people or their pets eat will attract bears. Bears learn quickly where to find food and make it a habit to return. Jonkel said those living on the boundaries between bear habitat and residential areas have more opportunity than most people do to protect bears from becoming habituated to food and complacent around humans. Landowners bordering bear habitat are the buffer between bears and the more heavily populated areas, Jonkel said. "If these landowners are responsible and eliminate a bear's access to bird feeders, grain, garbage and other food sources, they help prevent bears from moving on to the more populated residential areas where they are sure to get into trouble, he said.
The average bear covers a lot of territory to gather the 10,000 to 20,000 calories a day it requires, Jonkel said. A bear's search for natural foods often puts it on private land and in contact with humans. "The bears aren't coming in from somewhere to trouble us - this is their traditional habitat and they have nowhere else to go," Jonkel said. "Relocating a bear generally only puts it in new territory not far from someone else's residence. And, the bears inevitably try to return to their home territory."
Jonkel said relocation is becoming a futile pattern for bears and people in more populated areas of the state located in prime bear habitat. He recommends instead that people learn safe and effective ways to share the habitat with bears. Community volunteers in Seeley Lake are taking on that challenge by forming a group called "Bear Aware." "We're using the Bear Smart model that is successful in Canada," said Patty Bartlett, a member of the Seeley Lake group. "British Columbia developed the program to help reduce the millions of dollars they spend handling bear complaints."
Jonkel and grizzly bear specialist Tom Radandt of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula are helping the Seeley Lake Bear Aware volunteers to identify and fix existing hot spots that could attract bears.
They plan to work with neighbors to remove bird feeders or encircle them with electric fence, and to install bear proof dumpsters at elementary schools. In addition, businesses are volunteering to take in downtown garbage receptacles overnight to prevent a bear's access to garbage.
Jonkel and others are also working with Bear Aware volunteers on ways to integrate the needs of bears into community planning and decision-making when it makes sense. For example, planting fruit trees in a public park in Seeley Lake would not be a good choice because the trees would draw bears into the downtown area. "Bears and other wildlife are a big part of why we like living in Montana," Bartlett said. "We are committed to making Seeley Lake a place where we can live safely with bears and where bears aren't getting into trouble or being destroyed."
Tips for bear-proofing your home: It is best not to have bird feeders, but if you do, bird and hummingbird feeders should be hung 10 feet up and 4 feet out from the nearest trees and with a rope and pulley system for refilling them. Do not put out salt licks, grain, or deer blocks to attract wild animals as these create areas of concentrated animal scent that will then draw in bears and mountain lions.
Pet food should be stored inside and pets fed inside. If you must feed pets outdoors, sweep up any spilled food immediately and bring bowls in at night. Barbeque grills should be cleaned and stored after each use in a secure shed or garage. Fruit should be picked from trees when ripe and fallen fruit immediately collected.
Do not allow fruit to rot on the ground. Compost piles should be limited to grass, leaves, and garden clippings, and turn piles regularly. Adding lime can reduce smells and help decomposition. Do not add food scraps. Kitchen scraps can be composted indoors in a worm box with minimum odor and the finished compost can later be added to garden soil.
Gardens should be harvested immediately as vegetables, fruits and herbs mature. Locate gardens away from forests and shrubs that bears may use for cover. Do not use blood meal. Use native plant landscaping whenever possible. Avoid clover and dandelions, which attract bears.
Beehives, honey and bee larvae are especially attractive to bears. If you keep hives, elevate them on bear-proof platforms. Store garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or dumpsters, or, store food-related garbage in a secure building bears can't get into. Securely store empty recyclables, such as pop cans, indoors-the sweet smells attract bears. Decrease odors by storing garbage in tightly tied, heavy-duty bags, and garbage cans with tight lids. Store especially smelly garbage, such as meat or fish scraps, in a freezer until they can be taken to a refuse site.
Remove garbage regularly. For information on living with bears or starting a "Bear Aware" group, contact your local FWP bear management specialist, or Jamie Jonkel at 406-542-5508.
For details on bear proofing a home or community, contact an FWP regional office or call 406-542-5508. On the Net: www.fwp.state.mt.us