GREAT FALLS — The Montana Bear Education Working Group was at North 40 Outfitters in Great Falls on Saturday teaching people the fundamentals of bear safety.
“Being a Montanan or recreating in Montana, it’s really important to know that you could encounter a bear anywhere, and it’s very important to carry bear spray. Not to mention we’re seeing grizzly bears in new areas that we haven’t seen them in a very long time, so it’s just important to be prepared,” said Danielle Oyler, Montana Bear Education Working Group education coordinator.
To drive home the point, people got to practice their bear spray skills on a remote control charging bear. Many participants had to give it a few tries before they stopped the remote bear successfully.
“Some of these encounters happen very quickly, and it’s important to have your bear spray really accessible and know how to use it,” Oyler said. She recommended that people practice pulling the safety clip from their bear spray until they are comfortable enough to do it quickly.
When using the spray, she said to direct the spray low toward the bear’s front feet so the spray can rise up into the face. Most sprays will last for five to seven seconds if sprayed continuously, so you should try to start by using short bursts.
The Montana Bear Education Working Group is a collection of federal and state agencies and non-profit organizations that have common interests in reducing bear-human conflicts.
They are made up of the U.S. Forest Service; the Wildlife Management Institute; Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; People and Carnivores; the Wildlife Conservation Society; and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
At the event, people also learned about bear biology, the use of electric fencing and the importance of food or attractant storage.
“We have food storage orders that apply to almost all Forest Service grounds in all of Montana,” said Sara Sylte-Bear, education specialist for the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Sylte-Bear said it is important, no matter where you are going, to make sure you know the regulations. “Now that bears are expanding into new areas, we just want to make sure that we are keeping people and wildlife safe and wild,” Sylte-Bear said.
You can find information about bear-resistant containers here. It is also important to note that many bear-resistant coolers are not considered bear-proof unless they are secured with a lock or a nut and bolt.
If you are interested in upcoming events or want to have an education session in your area, you can connect with Montana Bear Education Working Group on Facebook or contact your local forest service office.
-Joe Huisinga reporting for MTN News