KALISPELL — State wildlife officials are offering up some advice, noting that avoiding a conflict with a bear is easier than dealing with one.
Loud noise, such as banging pots and pans, using an air horn or car alarm, or even shouting, is a simple, effective way to deter a bear on private property. It is illegal to discharge a firearm in city limits. It’s also extremely dangerous.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) bear specialists have responded to recent incidents involving people shooting bears with bean bag rounds, rubber bullets, and even shotgun and rifle rounds. All incidents risked public safety and only created injuries that debilitated the bears, creating a more dangerous situation for the public.
FWP notes bear spray is a highly effective, non-lethal bear deterrent.
Serious injuries caused by bears are rare, but the potential for conflict always exists.
Below are some questions and answers provided by FWP.
Q: Why are bears showing up in residential areas like Whitefish, Bigfork, and Columbia Falls?
A: Bears are actively seeking available food sources in preparation for winter denning. With a nose that’s 100 times more sensitive than a human’s, a bear can literally smell food five miles away. During early fall, they need to consumer upwards of 20,000 calories a day to survive the winter denning without eating or drinking. Urban areas tend to be rich in food resources including unsecured trash cans, birdfeeders, pet food, and fruit trees. Once a bear receives a food reward, it becomes food conditioned and returns for more.
The best way to avoid attracting a bear onto your property is remove or secure food attractants. If a bear does not receive a food reward, it is far less likely to show up in the first place or return. Bears that gain rewards from human food sources can become food conditioned, which means they lose their natural foraging ability and pose an increased risk to human safety. Food rewards can also lead wildlife to become habituated to people, another increased risk to human safety. Both food conditioning and habituation often lead to euthanizing an animal for safety reasons.
Q: What are the common food attractants bringing bears onto properties in northwest Montana?
A: The most attractants are garbage, pet and livestock food, and fruit trees, but also compost, gardens, outdoor food cookers, and beehives. In the spring, bird feeders are a common attractant as well.
Q: What is the best way to secure an attractant?
A: The best way to secure an attractant is to make it inaccessible to the animal by containing it within a secure hard-sided building (a structure with four-sided walls, roof and door). Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified bear-resistant containers are very useful in preventing the bear from learning that garbage could become a food source. If containment inside a secure structure is not practical, properly installed and maintained electric fencing is a very effective tool.
Q: What should I do if a bear is on my property?
A: Always keep a safe distance from wildlife. Never intentionally get close to a bear.
Loud noise, such as banging pots and pans, using an air horn or your car alarm, or shouting, is a simple, effective short-term way to deter a bear on private property. Bear spray is a highly effective, non-lethal bear deterrent. Carry EPA-approved bear spray and know how to use it.
Shooting at a bear with a firearm only creates a public safety issue and could injure the bear in a way that it can no longer naturally forage for food, creating a situation where it will likely seek food sources around residences.
Q: Who should I notify about a conflict with a bear?
A: Please report encounters where a bear displays aggressive or defensive behavior toward people, livestock or pets, or damages property. If a bear is getting into food attractants, please report conflicts to one of the nearest FWP bear management specialists in your area. To report grizzly bear activity in Flathead County, call FWP bear management specialists at (406) 250-1265. To report black bear and mountain lion activity in Flathead County, call (406) 250-0062). To report bear activity in Sanders and Lincoln counties, call (406) 291-1320.
In an emergency, phone 9-1-1.
For livestock conflicts, contact USDA Wildlife Services.
Q: How does FWP respond to a reported human-bear conflict?
A: FWP bear specialists talk with anyone who reports a conflict and identifies the source of the issue, which is often unsecured food attractants. Oftentimes a simple educational message leads to a solution because the bear goes away as soon as the food source is removed.
Oftentimes, FWP simply educates people and monitors the bear until it finds its way out of the area without intervention. However, if a bear is food conditioned and has gained enough food rewards in an area, it may require intervention. FWP may attempt to capture and move bears away from residences before they are food conditioned or habituated but trapping is difficult in urban areas. On average, it takes up to a minimum of two days to capture a bear and longer if there are cubs accompanying an adult female. If a trap captures a cub and separates it from its mother, it creates a significant public safety threat. Also, it is very difficult to lure a bear into a trap when there are abundant human food sources such as garbage or fruit in the area.
This is why avoiding a conflict in the first place is easier than dealing with one.