Help reduce conflict between bears and humans!
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: August 6, 2017

The Great Bear Foundation has the following opportunities available in Missoula to help reduce bear conflict!
From the organization’s website:

“What do apples have to do with bear conservation? An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but certainly not the bears!

Each summer and fall, domestic fruit trees ripen in the residential areas of Missoula, Montana, and other communities across the country that share habitat with bears. This coincides with the bears moving down the mountains to lower elevation in search of food and water sources, and the seasonal need for bears to start ramping up their diets and packing on the pounds in preparation for the long winter sleep.

Missoula, Montana once grew apples for the nation, and now the community is left with an abundance of apple, pear, plum, and apricot trees—a boon for local food production, but a nightmare for wildlife managers! As the fruit ripens, bears move into residential areas to reap the benefits of backyard fruit trees. Bears are so keyed in to sugar levels that they know just which fruit is ripest and most full of calories at any given time. The huckleberries and serviceberries are tapering off, and, just in time, domestic trees start producing sweet, abundant fruit.

In years when the bears’ natural food sources are scarce, like in drought years, the pressure intensifies, and we see even more bears coming down from the hills to reap the harvest of domestic fruit. And, it’s not just bears – other wildlife, like whitetail deer also converge in back yards to eat fallen fruit, in turn drawing in predators like mountain lions to residential areas.

Why is this a problem?

Many people enjoy watching wildlife, and to be able to watch a bear from one’s living room window can be very exciting! But, think about this from the perspective of the bear. In the fall, bears have one-track minds: all they want is to eat as much food as possible to prepare for winter, and not to be bothered. You may enjoy watching a bear eat apples in your back yard, but once the bear has entered your neighborhood, all kinds of potential trouble awaits, mainly for the bear, but also for you and your neighbors.

It may start with seemingly innocuous apples or plums, but then the bear finds your bird feeder. No matter how squirrel-proof you’ve made it, it’s probably not bear-proof. You were responsible and kept your garbage locked up in the garage, but your neighbor didn’t, and now the bear is raiding the garbage next door! Once a bear develops a liking for high-calorie, low-effort human-related food sources, that’s a tough habit to break. Wildlife managers are forced to remove bears from residential areas for the safety of the public. Relocating the bear is expensive, risky to both the animal and the people involved, and, on its own, rarely works, because the bear will often return to the area immediately, or find trouble elsewhere. This often results in the death of the bear.

It is far easier to prevent bears from getting food from humans than to correct the problem after it’s happened.

What are we doing about it?

The Great Bear Foundation came up with the Bears & Apples program to address what some wildlife managers identified as one of the biggest causes of conflict between humans and bears in Missoula: the abundance of domestic fruit in residential areas on the wildland-urban interface. Jerod Merkle’s University of Montana M.S. thesis identifies domestic fruit trees as a major attractant for black bears in the Rattlesnake Valley.

Each summer and fall, we coordinate volunteers to help local residents clean up the fruit on their trees and in their yards. We concentrate on the Rattlesnake Valley, keeping track of fruit as it ripens, combing the area for productive trees to add to our list, and picking fruit for local residents. Some residents choose to keep some of the fruit, but unwanted fruit comes back to the Great Bear Foundation office at 802 East Front Street, Missoula, to be sorted and stored behind an electric fence. The best fruit goes to people in need through Missoula Food Bank, the Poverelo Center, volunteers, and other interested parties. We press bruised and lower-grade fruit using a hand-built cider press, and distribute juice and cider to people in need. Not only are we removing bear attractants from residential areas and raising awareness, but healthy, locally-grown food helps out people in need!

We have a lot of fun picking fruit and pressing cider, and it becomes a community event. Other groups in the area, like Garden City Harvest and Missoula Urban Demonstration Project have also joined the effort with their own fruit gleaning programs and cider pressing events. If you are interested in volunteering to help pick or press fruit, or if you need help with your fruit trees, or just want apples, please contact the Great Bear Foundation! You can also help out by donating to the Great Bear Foundation’s Bears & Apples program to help us pay for gas, purchase equipment like ladders, and help us out with other costs.

See also this Missoulian article from10/12/2010: Apple trees draw bears into Missoula urban areas, research shows. And read a University of Montana MS Thesis by Jerod Merkle titled Human-Black Bear Interactions In Missoula, Montana.

Contact us to help out as a volunteer fruit picker, or if you need help picking your fruit.”