HELENA – According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife service, the Grizzly Bear population in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem has seen a significant rise over the past decade.
Current estimates put the number of bears around 1,000 in Northern Continental Divide ecosystem, which includes the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.
That growth in bear population has led to more frequent bear encounters with humans in Montana.
“Remember that a lot of communities in Montana are now working with bears where they never have before, and we all have to work together as Montanans, as a community, to help each other be safe and to keep Montana wild,” said Sara Sylte, bear education specialist.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service were training their Lincoln Ranger Station staff in bear safety and, importantly, how to educate the public about bears.
“We’ve gotten better about how we explain these things to the public,” explained Sylte. “We work on more communication skills, how to teach better and making sure we’re dispelling any myths.”
Forest Service staff are regularly educated on bear encounters, food storage orders and the use of bear spray.
Sylte recommends everyone to become educated on bear safety.
“If you live, work, or do anything in Montana–especially with the increased number of bears– it’s important,” said Sylte. “It’s kind of like driving and taking a defensive driving course. You should know about the things you could encounter at any time.”
Sylte added that bear spray is a great tool in reducing the severity of a bear encounter, but people need to have the knowledge and practice in using it.
In 2018 the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest were placed under new food storage orders to help provide more human safety and limit bear encounters.
The Forest Service has a list of the food storage orders and other bear encounter information on its website.
Story by John Riley, MTN News