Preventing human, bear conflicts is life saving
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FLATHEAD RESERVATION — Bear sightings are increasing in residential areas on the reservation as hibernation nears and sweet apples and other fruits start to ripen.
On Thursday afternoon, folks in the St. Ignatius area spotted a young black bear meandering through town and went to social media to post the sighting. “Just spotted this guy going into a residential area,” one person said of the bear. Another person said the same bear was wandering through her yard. Another person reminded people not to try and pet the bear.
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation officials state putting away bear attractants will reduce conflicts between bears and humans. The division encourages people to be responsible for garbage and other bear attractants “to prevent problems from occurring. If you have a bear frequenting your area in search of food, make sure all attractants are properly secured. The majority of bear calls revolve around bear attractants. Bears remember where they have found a food source. Once fed, a bear will return time after time, year after year.”
Moving or destroying bears, according to the CSKT Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation officials, is not the answer to fixing the conflicts between bears and humans.
“Each year over 50 bears are trapped and relocated. Many of these are black bears, which have to be destroyed to protect the public. As more people and more garbage move into traditional bear habitat, more bears are becoming garbage conditioned and once that occurs, they typically have to be killed. It’s a terrible waste of life.”
“Bears which are moved away may return, and others may starve to death. Bears can travel hundreds of miles to return to known food sources. Other bears are chased from their new surroundings by resident bears. In communities like St. Ignatius and Hot Springs, which have streams and riparian areas running through town and are situated at the base of mountain ranges, the bear problems can last all summer.”
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes designated a new call line for people to report non-emergency bear conflicts on the reservation: 406-275-2774. The Safety of Dams Program and the Natural Resources Department receive the calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The dispatch team will direct the call to the first CSKT game warden or wildlife biologist available.
A bear’s sense of smell often brings them into close contact with humans as they forage for food. “Looking at a bears head, it’s obvious they have a very large nose,” the National Park Service states. “The area inside a black bear’s nose, called the nasal mucosa, is 100 times greater than ours. This large nose results in an excellent sense of smell. Even bloodhounds, dogs so famous for their sense of smell that they’re used to track missing people, don’t smell as well as a black bear.”
The black bear’s sense of smell is difficult to exactly measure, but “bears are commonly thought to have the keenest sense of smell in the animal kingdom. Conservative estimates of a black bear’s sense of smell state that a black bear can smell a food source from over a mile away.”
CSKT Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation officials said that bears are attracted to people food, barbecues, trash, fruit trees, livestock and poultry, bee hives, pet food, wildlife feed mixes, game meat, gardens, compost piles and bird feeders. “Bears have a keen sense of smell, and garbage or other food sources could easily attract bears to your neighborhood. If we eat it or animals eat it, bears will eat it too.”
One local program is working to connect people who want to pick fruit or have fruit trees that need to be picked in an effort to reduce bear and human conflicts. CSKT Fruit Gleaning of the Flathead Reservation reported that approximately 100 pounds of apples were harvested by volunteers in Polson “in only half-an-hour” last week. For information about the program, call 406-675-2700, extension 7217.
On Saturday, Sept. 18, Salish Kootenai College will host the Mission Valley Apple Cider Bear Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the event center. There will be demonstrations on ways to harvest fruit and dispense bear spray. More information will also be available about the fruit gleaning program.
“Fruit trees throughout the Mission Valley are enjoyed by both bears and humans,” the organization states. “This juicy treat can entice bears into close proximity to homes and yards when fruit is not harvested from trees and orchards. To reduce black and grizzly bear conflicts in the area, we are implementing a new fruit gleaning program to connect those interested in harvesting fruit to preserve, press into cider or donate to local food banks.”
“There have been an increase in both people and bears in the valley, which also means there is a potential for human-bear conflicts. In the fall, bears enter a state known as hyperphagia, which is a period of time where they consume as many calories as possible to put on weight for winter hibernation.”
Additional preventative measures, according to the CSKT Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation, include: electric fencing, removing bird feeders between March and November, butchering wild game meat as soon as possible, feeding pets during the day so food is not left overnight and keeping trash in a bear-safe container.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks calls Montana “bear country” and asks people to never feed wildlife, especially bears. “Bears that become food conditioned lose their natural foraging behavior and pose a threat to human safety, and it is illegal to feed bears in Montana. It’s also important to keep a safe distance from bears and use bear spray if needed.” The FWP states that, overall, “preventing a conflict is easier than dealing with one.”