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Bears emerging from dens across northwest Montana

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Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 18:14:45-04

State wildlife officials say that bears are emerging from dens in Northwest Montana and that people need to “Be Bear Aware.”

Bears den at a variety of elevations during winter but most grizzly bears den above 6,000 feet. Grizzlies typically stay around the den for approximately a week before moving to areas without snow.

As bears begin foraging for food, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is asking residents to remove or secure food attractants such as garbage, bird feeders and bird seed.

The most common human-bear conflicts involve unsecured food attractants.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Dillon Tabish says FWP regional staff have recently responded to reports of black bears eating garbage and bird feeders in the Whitefish and Bigfork areas.

Reports are also trickling in of bear track observations on the east side of the Flathead Valley, Swan Valley and north near Eureka, Tabish added.

FWP is issuing the following reminders:

  • Now is a good time to haul garbage to landfills or green box sites and keep residential garbage bins inside until the morning of pickup service.
  • Instead of bird feeders, residents should set up bird houses or bird baths, and plant flowers or set up hanging flower baskets for hummingbirds.
  • Chickens and other livestock should be properly secured with electric fencing or inside a closed shed with a door.
  • Homeowners should stay at least 100 yards away from wildlife and try to haze animals off their property with loud noises.
  • Recreationists are urged to follow precautionary steps and tips to prevent conflicts, including carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it, and traveling in groups while making noise.

Bears that gain rewards from human food sources can become food conditioned, which means they lose their natural foraging ability and pose a risk to human safety," Tabish noted.

Food rewards can also lead wildlife to become habituated to people, posing a risk to human safety. Both food conditioning and habituation often lead to euthanizing the animal for safety reasons.

As a reminder, it is illegal to knowingly feed deer, elk, moose, mountain lions, and bears. Putting out salt blocks and deer blocks is illegal unless it is for livestock.

Residents are encouraged to report bear activity. To report grizzly bear activity in the greater Flathead Valley, call FWP bear management specialists at (406) 250-1265. To report black bear and mountain lion activity in the greater Flathead Valley, call (406) 250-0062). To report bear activity in the Cabinet-Yaak area, call (406) 291-1320.

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