By Montana Grant

Posted: June 27, 2021

Bear Lives Matter, but lately, bears may be overstepping their bounds. The world is in a constant state of change. Like it or not, our climate, society, environment, and lives are different. The world is becoming a smaller place.

As human populations grow, there is less space for other animals and plants. While we can debate why these things are happening, Science supports that they are.

Bears have been delivering the message lately. Recently, there have been more bear encounters, and other predators, than in recent decades. Just in the area around Yellowstone Park, trailheads are being closed, campers are being attacked, sightings are higher than ever, and the risk of an animal assault has increased.

Just a few weeks ago, I saw a Black Bear marching through my home community of Belgrade, near Bozeman. This young male was chasing dogs and getting into trash. Several neighbors filmed the Bear incursion. Young male bears often roam, looking for new habitats and females. This means moving into areas where another bear competition is unlikely. Water ways and irrigation ditches are popular Bear Pathways. The problem is that these areas are already taken by humans.

When fires or habitat destruction occur, critters need to move to greener pastures. The White Bark Pinecones, which grizzly bears love to eat, are nearly gone. These high-altitude fruits kept bears in the high places, away from humans. Without this major food treat, bears begin searching for other buffets. These buffets include camper’s food stores, small pets, bird feeders, trash receptacles, gardens, and pet food.

Residents are also seeing high altitude critters, like Mountain Sheep, and elk along roadways and lower areas. The road to Big Sky is becoming an even riskier drive, due to parades of wildlife along the narrow road. Is this concentration of critters due to lack of resources at higher altitude? Are there too many aggressive predators pressuring wildlife to areas where the predators may be discouraged to encroach? Whatever the reasons are, hunger is a driving force.

There has been a steady rise of predator-people encounters this year. One reason may be the increased population of campers and tourists. Our parks and campgrounds are overflowing with visitors. Bikes, wheelers, and marathon hikers are venturing deeper into the wilderness. Popular campsites near West Yellowstone, Quake Lake, Mystic Lake, and many other popular areas have a recent history of dangerous encounters.

Last year, I remembered an outfitter on horseback, trekking into the Gravelly Mountains. The group of riders suddenly encountered a Grizzly Bear! To scare the bear off, the Head Honcho shot their rifle over the bear’s head. Suddenly, several Grizzlier heads popped up! Apparently, there was a dead cow carcass near the trail, that had become a Bear Buffet. This area was then closed for several weeks. The area around Beaver Creek, near Quake Lake, is also closed due to a moose kill which has attracted bears.

Increased encounters with Bears are not the only danger. Humans are invading the Bear’s Living Room. Other predators are also guests. Be aware of rattlesnakes, Mountain Lions, Wolves, Coyotes, and other critters eager to ruin your day. With drier weather, fires, and human pressures on the rise, we can expect more encounters. It is important to stay Bear Aware. Carry Bear Spray, a sidearm, or other Bear Scare product with you.

The time you assume you do not need it, is when you will.

Montana Grant