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Bears seeking food sources with the arrival of fall

by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
| September 13, 2021 12:15 PM

With the arrival of fall, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks staff are busy responding to bear conflicts and working with the public to prevent conflicts.

To date, most of the reported conflicts in northwest Montana have involved bears getting into unsecured garbage and livestock feed, hanging around homes feeding on green grass and clover, and killing small livestock, such as chickens and pigs. FWP staff work with landowners on electric fencing, loaning out bear-resistant garbage containers, and securing attractants with the goal of preventing conflicts.

In fall, bears are increasingly active in preparation for winter denning. FWP has received numerous reports of bears feeding on domestic fruit on residential properties, as well as serviceberries, chokecherries, hawthorn, and huckleberries. Numerous bears have been reported in Whitefish feeding on fruit trees, and FWP staff encourage residents to pick up fruit. A Facebook page named Flathead Fruit Gleaning works to connect residents who want to pick up fruit with those who need fruit picked up.

Bears that gain rewards from human food sources can become food conditioned, which means they lose their natural foraging ability and pose an increased risk to human safety. Food rewards can also lead wildlife to become habituated to people, another increased risk to human safety. Both food conditioning and habituation often lead to euthanizing an animal for safety reasons.

Montana is bear country with populations of grizzly and black bears that frequent higher and lower elevations, especially river corridors. Preventing a conflict is easier than dealing with one.

Bear spray is a highly effective, non-lethal bear deterrent. Carry EPA-approved bear spray and know how to use it.

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.

Know your bears. It is important to know the difference between grizzly bears and black bears, whether you are hunting or hiking.

Always keep a safe distance from wildlife. Never intentionally get close to a bear.

Loud noise, such as banging pots and pans, using an air horn or your car alarm, or shouting, is a simple, effective short-term way to deter a bear on private property.

A properly constructed electrified fence is both safe for people, livestock and pets, and has proven effective at deterring bears from human-related resources such as beehives, garbage or small livestock.

Please report conflicts to one of the nearest FWP bear management specialists in your area. For a list of specialists, visit fwp.mt.gov/conservation/species/bear/contact.

Seeing a bear is not necessarily a reportable encounter or an emergency. Report encounters where the bear displayed aggressive or defensive behavior toward people, livestock or pets, or damaged property. In an emergency, phone 911. For livestock conflicts, contact USDA Wildlife Services.

Learn more about grizzly bears in Montana at fwp.mt.gov/conservation/species/bear.

Recent grizzly management actions in northwest Montana

When responding to a conflict involving bears, FWP follows Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) guidelines that inform an appropriate action depending on what happened. FWP prioritizes human safety. FWP will capture and move a bear when it’s likely the bear will avoid future human conflicts. FWP will consult with the U.S. Forest Service or Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation to identify a pre-approved remote section of forestland where a bear can be moved. Euthanizing an adult bear is always a last resort but necessary when an animal is likely going to continue experiencing human conflicts and present an increased threat to human safety. FWP works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

April 28 — Sub-adult male captured near Glen Lake south of Eureka around homes and getting into horse feed and unsecured garbage. FWP moved the bear to a remote section of the Coal Creek area in the North Fork drainage. On May 18, the bear was killed illegally, and it is under investigation.

May 11 — Sub-adult male captured north of Ferndale around homes. It was relocated to the Wounded Buck area in the South Fork of the Flathead River drainage. It was recaptured May 26 along the Swan River after killing chickens. It was relocated to a remote section of the Morrison Creek drainage in the Middle Fork of the Flathead drainage. It dropped its GPS radio collar near Loon Lake, south of Ferndale.

May 30-31 — Adult female grizzly bear and male yearling recaptured near Whitefish after repeatedly killing chickens, goats and llamas on residential property. Both bears were euthanized due to food conditioning.

June 2 — Adult female grizzly bear incidentally captured near Lupfer Meadow north of Whitefish while trapping for another grizzly bear. The grizzly was moved and released just north of the capture site and then traveled into the Whitefish Range.

June 11 — Adult male grizzly bear incidentally captured near Lupfer Meadow north of Whitefish. Captured while FWP was attempting to trap a different bear. The bear was already radio-collared and had been captured in 2020 near Seeley Lake and relocated to the Frozen Lake area next to the Canadian border. The bear was released in a remote section of the Spotted Bear area in the South Fork of the Flathead drainage.

June 28 — Sub-adult female grizzly bear captured near Martin Camp north of Whitefish. The bear was captured where several different bears were reportedly accessing unsecured horse feed. The bear was relocated to a remote section of the Big Bill area in the Spotted Bear drainage.

July 27 — Adult female grizzly bear captured in the Heron area after it was reported digging up residential property where small livestock carcasses were buried. The bear did not have a conflict history, was radio collared and moved to a remote section of the Rice Draw/Deer Creek area on the Kootenai National Forest.

July 28 — Adult male grizzly bear captured south of Condon. The bear was reportedly seen on residential porches. A garbage dumpster and several garbage cans along Highway 83 were tipped over. The bear did not have a conflict history and was moved to a remote section of the Puzzle Creek area in the Middle Fork of the Flathead River drainage.

Aug. 24 — Adult male grizzly bear captured off Highway 206 near Columbia Falls. The bear killed pigs in the Echo Lake area before killing pigs on residential property off Highway 206. FWP euthanized the bear due to food conditioning.

Aug. 24 — Adult male grizzly bear captured off Tanager Way near Echo Lake after reports of dead pigs and other small livestock on residential properties in the area. FWP euthanized the bear due to food conditioning.

Aug. 29 — Sub-adult female grizzly bear captured between West 8th and 9th streets near downtown Whitefish. The bear was accessing chicken coops on residential properties and remaining close to residences. It did not have previous conflict history and was moved to a remote section of the Puzzle Creek area near Marias Pass.

Aug. 31-Sept. 4 — Adult female grizzly bear and three female yearlings captured in the Polebridge area. The bears broke into a trailer in Polebridge that was storing garbage, as well as accessing garbage cans and a barbecue grill on residential properties. The bears also broke into a pickup topper where food and garbage were stored. The bears were euthanized due to food conditioning.

Sept. 3 — Adult female grizzly bear incidentally captured with two cubs in the Polebridge area. These bears did not have conflict history, were collared, and re-released on-site.

Sept. 8 — Adult male grizzly bear incidentally captured in the Deep Creek area near Fortine while trying to capture a different bear that was getting into unsecured garbage. The bear was moved to a remote section of the Frozen Lake area near the US-Canadian Border.

Known grizzly bear mortalities in northwest Montana

FWP, in cooperation with other agencies, monitors the population trend of grizzly bears in northwest Montana. The work of this program, including the latest population estimate, is summarized in annual reports published online at wp.mt.gov/conservation/species/bear/management.

Below are known recent mortalities in northwest Montana not included in the management summary above.

June 22 — Sub-adult male grizzly bear shot and killed by a landowner off the Martin Creek Road near Olney. The incident is under investigation.

July 21 — Male grizzly bear cub killed by a vehicle north of Condon in the Swan Valley.

Aug. 1 — Male grizzly bear killed by a vehicle north of Whitefish Lake.

Aug. 16 — Landowners discovered a dead adult female grizzly bear in the Stillwater River near Twin Bridges west of Whitefish. The cause of death is under investigation.

Sept. 6 — Adult male grizzly bear found dead due to accidental poisoning in the Trego area. The bear ate mole and gopher poison in the back of a truck.

Known and probable grizzly bear mortalities

As of Sept. 9, the current known and probable grizzly bear mortalities (i.e. dead or removed from the population) in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (spanning FWP regions 1,2, and 4, and two Reservations (Blackfeet & Flathead):

15 — Agency Removals (10 Livestock Depredations, 4 Food Conditioning/Property/Habituation, 1 Human Fatality); 10 — Automobile; 4 — Poached/Malicious Killing; 3 — Natural; 3 — Unknown; 2 — Accidental Poisoning; 1 — Defense of Life; 1 — Capture-related death.