Following 18 encounters between grizzly bears and recreationists last year in southwest Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ staff is encouraging vigilance as the big bruins begin waking up from hibernation.
Out of the 18 “potentially dangerous” encounters, five people were injured and two adult bears were killed. None of the human injuries were fatal.
The incidents occurred in the Madison, Gravelly, Absaroka and Beartooth mountain ranges, with 14 of them occurring after Sept. 1. Four of the encounters were in the Gravelly Range and resulted in four human injuries, two bears being shot and one grizzly killed when a hunter shot the attacking bear.
Most attacks from grizzly bears happen in surprise close encounters with people, FWP noted. Grizzly bears often attack defensively when encountering people in dense brush or timber, at the site of an animal carcass or when cubs are present.
Grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Management authority rests with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working closely in Montana with FWP, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, the Forest Service and American Indian tribes who conduct the investigations and management actions.
However, grizzlies have expanded beyond core recovery zones and expanded into areas like the Gravelly Mountains where they hadn’t been seen before. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bear population, which includes portions of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, is estimated at about 750 bears.
March is typically when bears start emerging from hibernation, and by April, most, if not all, bears are active again — the same time that residents and recreationists are spending more time outside.
Residents can minimize bear attractants by doing a spring cleanup of their yard. Bird feeders, pet food, garbage and other attractants should be stored securely. Bear-resistant garbage containers are available to residents in many areas.
If a bear finds an artificial food source it is likely to return to the same place to look for food. Such situations can create risks for humans and property and require problem bears to be relocated or destroyed.
Recreationists should always be prepared to handle a bear encounter. Carry bear spray and travel in groups; these two factors proved essential for people who survived bear attacks last year. Casual noise can help alert bears to your presence. Animal carcasses can attract bears, so avoid them. Follow food storage orders, which went into effect on March 1 for public lands in Montana.
For more information on avoiding negative encounters with bears, visit igbconline.org/bear-safety.