Secure bear attractants around home and be safe when outside recreating
MISSOULA –Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has received an increasing number of reports of bears in the Missoula, Bitterroot and Blackfoot valleys this week, serving as a reminder to be bear aware during the fall season.
Bears are extra active this time of year, especially in lower elevations where they can find more food in preparation for winter. Be extra cautious when outdoors and put away all items that attract bears around our homes and neighborhoods, such as garbage and bird feeders.
FWP says that most bears reported in our west-central Montana valley bottoms over the last few weeks have been black bears. Black bears are not always black in color, and several seen recently in the Missoula and Bitterroot areas have lighter coats, leading to misidentification.
For example, several black bears seen and photographed near Stevensville in the Bitterroot Valley have light fur and have been confused as grizzly bears. Several lighter colored black bears have also been reported in Missoula’s Rattlesnake neighborhood, near Greenough Park. No grizzlies have been confirmed in the Rattlesnake in recent weeks.
There is one confirmed grizzly bear spending time in the northern Bitterroot Valley right now. This bear was first documented in early August when it was incidentally captured as part of a Bitterroot black bear research study and has remained in the area since.
The male grizzly was 275 pounds in August and has added about 50 pounds of weight since. The grizzly has been spotted multiple times recently and is mostly keeping to more remote private lands between Lolo and Florence. It hasn’t been involved in any conflicts but has found apple trees in a few locations, including at least one tree near a home. Picking apples and collecting those apples that have already fallen, especially on trees near homes, is the most reliable strategy against preventing conflicts with humans.
Multiple black bears in the Bitterroot have been finding garbage, in addition to fruit trees and other attractants. Bears in the Bitterroot Valley often have a hard time staying to natural foods because of the magnitude of attractants available to them, and securing attractants is critical, especially this time of year.
In the Blackfoot Valley near the town of Potomac, black bears and several grizzlies have been regularly looking for food in and around homes in recent weeks. Unsecured garbage is the key issue in keeping bears in the area. To keep garbage out of a bear’s reach, set it out just before collection, or use bear resistant garbage cans, available from local garbage collection companies.
“Bears are in hyperphagia right now and will continue to come down into our valleys over the next month, looking for food as they prepare for winter, so it’s an extra critical time to keep everything picked up around our houses,” said Jamie Jonkel, FWP bear management specialist. “Given the number of bears in these areas, it really is up to each of us to take preventative measures to stay safe. If there’s an unsecured food item out there, it is best to assume that a bear will find it.”
A western Montana community website, missoulabears.org, houses a collection of information from area partners on how to keep your property bear resistant and provides a spot to track recent wildlife activity and report attractant issues and wildlife sightings. FWP offers the following tips to secure attractants and increase safety this fall.
How to avoid attracting bears to your property:
- Keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other attractants put away in a secure building. Certified bear-resistant cans are available in many areas.
- Bears are attracted to fruit-bearing trees and bushes, gardens and compost piles. Electric fencing can be effective at deterring bears as well as routinely picking fallen and ripe fruit.
- Never feed wildlife. Any food left out can attract bears, and bears that become food conditioned loose their natural foraging behavior and pose threats to human safety. It is illegal to feed wildlife in Montana.
- Secure livestock (chickens, goats, sheep) with an electric fence whenever possible.
Tips for recreating in bear country:
- Carry bear spray close at hand and know how to use it.
- Travel in groups whenever possible.
- Make noise, especially near streams or in thick forest where hearing and visibility is limited. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know they are present.
- If you are attacked by a bear and you are without a deterrent or the deterrent hasn’t worked, stay face down on the ground, protecting your face and neck with your arms. Stay still until you’re certain the bear has moved away.
- Avoid carcass sites and concentrations of ravens and other scavengers.
- Watch for signs of bears such as scat, diggings, torn-up logs and turned over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.
- Don’t approach a bear.
For more information on being bear aware, visit fwp.mt.gov/bear-aware.