GARDINER - The thought of encountering a Grizzly bear while hunting or hiking is scary enough, but it’s not often one shows up at an elementary school, bus stop, or runs across a football field. But Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks says that's exactly what's happening in southwestern Montana.
For the first time in 10 years, Mike Baer, the principal of Gardiner schools, said he had to send a message warning parents to be aware of a bear in the area.
"We got a notice that the bear was in town, and it was starting to get light out,” said Baer. “We knew kids were going to be coming to school soon.”
It was a good thing he sent the message because not too long after a grizzly bear and her cubs were seen grazing on grass and dandelions on the football field at Gardiner High School.
"About 100 to 150 yards from where my office is,” said Baer. “Apparently they ran right in front of a school bus and all the kids saw her."
The female grizzly bear and two cubs were recently captured and relocated from Gardiner.
“I've been here for 10 years and every fall there’s been bears in town,” said Baer.
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But lately, Baer has noticed a change.
“This year it seems like they started coming into town earlier,” said Baer.
Morgan Jacobsen with FWP says they've noticed this behavior as well.
“Bears are spending more time in the daylight, including around schools,” said Jacobsen.
He says October has been a busy month for them. The Gardiner school encounter was just one of many.
“Ophir Elementary school in Big Sky, as well as at other homesites,” said Jacobsen. “All 3 bears approached some people that were out in the daytime.
No one was hurt and FWP captured the bears. Unfortunately, due to the poor condition of the female bear, aggressive behavior, and property damage, she was euthanized.
"I don't know if the community has changed, if there’s different people here and they’re not used to it, or that there actually are more bears,” said Baer.
Jacobsen said that's exactly it.
“Grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the endangered species act so we've seen their numbers increasing and we're seeing them in more places that they haven’t been in the past,” said Jacobsen.
Jacobsen said avoiding conflicts with bears is easier than dealing with them.
FWP advises people to remove fruit on and around fruit trees, keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food, and other attractants put away in a secure building, carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately, travel in groups whenever possible and make casual noise which can help alert bears to your presence, stay away from animal carcasses which often attract bears, and If you encounter a bear never approach it.
“We live in bear country so it's our responsibility to be bear aware,” said Jacobsen.
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