KALISPELL - Bears are starting to make their way down from the mountains into more urban settings in Northwest Montana as they look for food sources before hibernation.
“The huckleberries just are not showing up like normal and so that could lead to increases in bears getting down low looking for food," said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) spokesman Dillon Tabish.
Tabish said dozens of calls are coming in daily regarding black bear and grizzly bear sightings in urban settings across Flathead County.
“It’s when these bears continually get their food rewards from coming back and finding food attractants that they learn that bad behavior where they become food conditioned and they no longer go out into the mountains looking for food, they learn that they need to come around people to get food and we don’t want that to happen,” added Tabish.
Tabish said a small berry crop in the mountains this summer has led to an increase in bear activity down below. He noted that now is the time to reduce, secure or remove potential food sources on your property.
“Whether it’s garbage, chickens, barbecues, or right now domestic fruit trees —if you have a fruit tree in your yard and it’s going to be dropping apples onto your grass, you want to pick those up.”
Tabish said bears are active along creek and river corridors this time of year, — and one popular hangout is along the Flathead River in Columbia Falls.
“Those are areas where wildlife will move around a little bit more so if you’re in one of those areas maybe just be a little extra mindful that wildlife could be coming up and down through those corridors,” Tabish said.
Columbia Falls School District Superintendent Dave Wick said parents should be mindful of bear activity in their neighborhoods.
“I guess the biggest recommendation we have is probably not send your child out alone to go to the bus stop or come to school, have them have a sibling, older sibling or buddy to go with would probably be the best thing we could tell," said Wick.
Tabish said reporting urban bear sightings to FWP immediately is a great first step in avoiding conflicts.
“If we get a conflict, call right off the bat that helps us address the situation as quickly as we can and hopefully either move that bear away from you or hopefully if you move those attractants it’s going to naturally fix itself,” said Tabish.