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Black bear sightings on the rise in Helena

Posted at 3:05 PM, Sep 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-30 17:14:53-04

HELENA - Helena has no shortage of great historical draws, restaurants and breweries.

But this fall, bears seem to be making the trip farther into town than in years past.

However, it is unlikely the bruins are coming here to tour the Capital building.

“Between the calls of just the sighting of scat or knowing that the bear was there previous to actual sightings like this, we’re, I’m probably receiving three to four a day," Animal Control and Urban Wildlife Officer Sean McCarthy told MTN.

McCarthy says he’s been very busy this fall.

“I would definitely say that the amount of calls has gone on the rise, the amount of sighting in town especially has gone on the rise," said McCarthy. "I will say this spring was a very active spring for the urban wildlife, just as far as all the animals having a lot of young this spring. There was a lot of offspring coming up this year.”

That is likely because of the mild winter we had, leading to a larger animal survival rate. And more animals mean more food – which is not exactly the case up in woods right now.

“This time of the year the bears have run into the drought problems in the mountains," McCarthy told MTN. "Berries, things like that, that they normally would be feeding on have dried up or have been eaten by other animals. So they are coming lower, that’s one of the biggest reasons we are seeing them here, they are flowing choke cherry trees and the smell of apples. So we are seeing them on the outskirts of town, especially in the areas like this where there is an abundance of fruit trees and then, unfortunately, they start getting into our garages, things like that. I’m tracking a bear.”

WEB EXTRA: Black bears in Helena

Just like avoiding bear encounters in the woods, there are things we can do to keep these black bears from getting to close for comfort in town.

“There are several things that we can do to kind of help minimize some of the activities of these bears and the recurrence of them really. Picking up apple trees, if we have fruit-bearing trees, picking up any fruit off the ground, making sure that area is clean. If you have any low-hanging fruit, make sure you are harvesting them on a regular basis, getting that out of the area," McCarthy said. "If you have the ability to store your garbage cans inside in a secure area do so. The question keeps coming up about bird feeders to me, I get a lot of that. People still want their bird feeders out. So the suggestion is getting them up as high as you can, out on limbs that a bear may not try to climb out onto. Maybe filling them only halfway up so there is not much food in those and that extra feed you have for birds or chickens, that feed if it could be stored in containers inside somewhere would be ideal.”

Sean also told me that bears can cause injury to your pets, but black bears are not typically looking for them as food. They are more scavengers then hunters here in town. But it is still a good idea to be extra careful when letting your animals out at dawn or dusk.

If you do see a bear in the city limits contact the Helena Police Department or Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

And remember, bears will become more and more active in the coming months as they prepare for hibernation. FWP says avoiding a conflict is easier than dealing with one.

  • Bear spray is a highly effective, non-lethal bear deterrent. Carry EPA-approved bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Never feed wildlife, especially bears. Bears that become food conditioned lose their natural foraging behavior and pose a threat to human safety. And it is illegal to feed bears in Montana.
  • Know your bears. It is important to know the difference between grizzly bears and black bears, whether you are hunting or hiking.
  • 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.