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Bear sightings in Lake County increase

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LAKE COUNTY — There has been an increase in bear sightings in communities this year, but according to biologists from the Wildlife Management Program of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, it isn’t due to this year’s fire activity. 

The main suspected reason, according to bear biologists Payton Adams and Padden Alexander, is due to poor berry production and a general lack of food. 

“We had a late winter, and it got hot pretty early, and I think it just messed with the growing cycle that a lot of the plants bears like to eat,” Adams said. “So now, this time of years, when ideally we’d like to see bears moving up into the mountains and eating huckleberries … they’re not finding any. I haven’t been able to find any huckleberries either. All the plants we’ve seen kind of look scorched.” 

Now, as bears move into hyperplasia - trying to build up fat reserves for the winter - they’ve been following garbage sources into new places. “Residents that aren’t normally accustomed to securing attractants from bears are seeing bears this year, and we have been expending efforts to educate the public on bear safety and awareness as often as possible,” wildlife biologist Kari Kingery stated. “We appreciate the good stewardship of Flathead Indian Reservation residents by practicing methods to prevent these often-avoidable human – wildlife conflicts.”

Measures residents can take to avoid these conflicts include a variety of ways to protect and secure potential attractants, such as garbage, exterior fruit and produce, pet and bird feed, and small livestock. 

Bear-resistant garbage bins can be leased for an additional fee from Republic Services for those who have their trash picked up, Adams explained. For those who haul their own garbage, these garbage bins can be purchased at Ace Hardware. People can also consider making an extra trip to the dump each week, or keeping garbage inside until morning. Pet and bird food should also be brought inside at night and grills and grease traps should be cleaned regularly. 

“Although it may seem safe, sheds aren’t a secure place to store trash or feed, as bears can damage a shed if it smells food inside,” Kingery added. “Ammonia, bleach and other cleaners are effective at getting rid of smelly trash; however it is not an effective way at keeping bears out of your trash.”

Removing excess and unused fruit from around the home will also be extremely important this year, as low availability of natural fruits will pressure bears to seek from fruit trees in people’s yards, Kingery mentioned. Those who need help picking unused fruit can visit the Mission Valley Fruit Gleaning Facebook page at: to connect with people in the community able to help. Drop-off locations where community members can leave boxes of gleaned fruit to be shared with various community programs and food banks can also be found on this page. 

Electrification is also an option and something they try to provide, Adams said. “It goes well with fruit trees, berry bushes, chicken coops … A lot of the time a simple net loaner kit might not work for someone, so we’re able to go out, look at what the issues are and where someone’s at, learn what they do or don’t want, and come up with a creative solution with the landowner to protect whatever it is they have that’s attracting bears,” he explained.

“As long as they get all the material, we’re more than willing to help them install it,” Alexander added. 

“We’ve had a few people say that they turned their fence off because they didn’t want it to start a fire. That’s a reasonable concern. All the materials that we use, all the materials that we recommend people use for their own fence, they’re all new and updated fencing that isn’t the type that would cause any type of live spark,” Adams explained. “Take a weed eater around your fence, make sure nothing’s growing into it, and you should only need to worry about it about three times per summer. If people have those concerns, they’re more than welcome to reach out, but as far as just thinking if a blade of grass touches the electric fence it’s going to start a grass fire, that’s not how the electric fences work.”

“We are often asked why we don’t set culvert traps and remove every bear in conflict. On the surface this seems like a good solution, however, it is only a temporary solution to a deeper issue,” Kingery added. “Removing one bear that has learned this behavior may resolve the issue momentarily, but if the attractant is not removed or secured, new bears - sometimes even only hours later - will find that same food source and learn the same behavior.”

The best way to reach out for bear safety consultations is the non-emergency conflict call line, 406-275-2774. Those interested specifically in electric fencing help can call 406-883-2888 ext. 7299 to speak with Adams.

Additionally, it’s important that bears do not grow comfortable in residential areas. “If you’ve been seeing the bear for months and it’s been hanging around, what it’s doing is getting more and more comfortable,” Adams said. “They’re going to get bold.” 

“Open a window and yell, bang pots and pans, blow a boat-horn, spray them with bear spray, or make some loud, audible noise to alert and scare the bear away as soon as possible. The longer a bear is allowed to be in a yard or on a porch without hazing, the more bears will learn to associate human dwellings and yards as safe places to be, and will seek them out for shelter,” Kingery stated. “It is up to each of us as residents in Bear Country to prevent bears from learning bad behaviors. Bears will take behaviors learned in your yard and take them to your neighbor’s yard, or the next neighborhood, so let’s teach them healthy, safe behaviors.” 

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