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Secure attractants as bears emerge from dens

Tribal Wildlife Program Bear Biologist Stacy Courville reminds the public that spring time on the Flathead Reservation, with its warmer temperatures and new vegetation is accompanied by bears emerging from dens. Soon after bears emerge they search for winter-killed wildlife and succulent vegetation. During spring months those are the primary sources of much-needed food for bears.

Bears are readily drawn to items like garbage, pet foods, bird feeders, and attractants like chickens and other small livestock, often resulting in bear and human conflicts. Whenever someone makes food or attractants available to bears, they create situations that invite bears to become problem bears, which could ultimately endanger someone or cause the bear’s elimination.  

Domestic chickens and other small livestock like pigs, goats and sheep have been a particularly serious problem the past few years. Three family groups of grizzly bears have been removed from the population on the reservation and sent to zoos. In one case, the entire family group – a female grizzly bear and two cubs - were taken by a zoo. In the second instance the adult female grizzly bear was euthanized and two of her three yearling cubs were taken by a zoo. In the third case the adult female was euthanized and her two cubs were placed in a zoo. 

In all of these incidents, Tribal wildlife biologists determined that an effective electric fence would have prevented the bear conflict. Bear managers request that anyone with small livestock or chickens install an electric fence to protect and secure attractants. 

Defenders of Wildlife have an electric fence incentive program for just this issue, so there is every reason for people with small livestock to have an electric fence.

According to Courville, “one key aspect of the public education program is providing the public with information on ways to eliminate bear attractants.” To receive information on securing bear attractants and preventing conflicts, please call the Tribal Wildlife Management Program at 406-883-2888. 

Another potential for human bear conflict is recreating in bear country. Courville highly encourages people to carry bear spray. Bear spray should be readily accessible and the user should know how to use it.

One of the best ways to ensure safety is to travel in a group of three or more people and make noise. Make loud noise especially when in dense brush or near running water where surprise encounters are likely to take place. Proper use of bear spray has proven to be the best and most effective method for fending off threatening and attacking bears, and for preventing injury to the person and animal involved. 

If a grizzly bear is observed, please report it to the Wildlife Management Program at 406-883-2888, report bear conflicts or problems to Tribal Law & Order Dispatch at 406-675-4700. When calling regarding a bear, always tell Tribal Dispatch you are calling about a bear problem or conflict. 

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