Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is working with local partners to get free bear spray and safety tips into the hands of hunters headed to a few Blackfoot Valley hunting spots that have a history of bear encounters.
Jamie Jonkel, FWP Region 2 Bear Management Specialist, said that the Blackfoot Valley is an area where black bear and grizzly habitat overlap, and some of the same spots that are attractive to hunters are also spots that bears tend to concentrate.
“When hunters are quietly pursuing game, and especially when they have an animal down, they increase their odds of a bear encounter,” Jonkel said.
Jonkel said there are several upper Blackfoot Block Management Areas (private lands open to hunters free of charge, as part of a cooperative program between landowners and FWP) that have a history of extra bear activity during hunting season.
Shanley and Dick Creek BMAs are two such spots, and those wanting to hunt these BMAs gather in Ovando every Fridayevening during rifle season to see if their name is drawn.
FWP Block Management staff shares bear safety tips with those hunters and, for the fifth year in a row, a free can of bear spray, thanks to donations from the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, along with discounted bear spray prices offered by Counter Assault.
“We have handed out an average of 100 canisters for the past five seasons, and thanks to these partnerships, we are geared up to hand out the same number this year,” Jonkel.
As part of this larger bear safety effort in the Blackfoot, the Block Management Program also has a food storage requirement on all Blackfoot BMAs that offer overnight camping. Hunters must store food and all other potential bear attractants, such as garbage and pet and livestock food, in a bear resistant container in these areas.
In addition to the partners that have helped make the bear spray purchases possible, Jonkel points to the important role that Blackfoot landowners, residents and hunters continue to play in sharing these bear safety messages.
“There is huge value in the information sharing on current bear activity that goes on between those that live and those that spend time in the Blackfoot,” Jonkel said. “We hope that all this heightened bear awareness, combined with bear spray in the hands of more people, will help to keep prevent bear conflicts and keep hunters safe out there.”
(Report by Montana FWP; Feature photo via byu.edu)