The grizzly bear is one of the most iconic animals in Montana, but it can also be one of the most dangerous.
When bears and people collide it's up to bear management teams like Mike Madel and Seth Thompson of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to find a solution.
Madel says the most important part of controlling bear-human conflicts is working with the people who call grizzly habitat home.
“We respond to a lot of conflicts between grizzly bears and people,” Madel said. “Sometimes it's between bears and livestock, but you know situations like property damage encounters, things like that. Probably the most important part is trying to work together with people on ways to co-habit the lands.
An ideal end to most bear conflicts means trapping, tagging, and relocating the bear. But, if they continue to be a problem, as they were on a ranch near Carter last summer, they may have to be put down.
However, female bears are less likely to meet that end.
Madel said, “[An] adult female is given more opportunities to come into conflict with people and be relocated instead of simply being removed from the population.”
The best option is to prevent a conflict before it begins.
The use of bear-resistant containers for food, trash, and livestock feed are a must.
One item already found on most ranches may be the best defense of all.
“We find that electric fencing is probably the most effective tool that we have to prevent conflicts, particularly here on the Rocky Mountain Front,” said Thompson.
Bear managers also use carcass relocation to remove dead livestock from farms and ranches and place them in an area that is safe for bears and people.
“We provide that service to the rancher,” said Thompson. “But we are also providing a valuable protein resource for that bear in the spring.”
That protein resource can also be the perfect bait for trapping in the wild.
Madel said, “Every bear that's caught for management reasons tends to be collared but we also conduct research trapping, usually in the spring.”
The grizzlies caught and collared at these trap sites, especially females, are crucial to continuing bear research and tracking populations.
Thompson said, “We have an ongoing research project that monitors the population, and females are the drivers of that population.”
Grizzlies were listed as an endangered species in 1975 but the population in Montana has made a strong comeback since then.
Madel said, “Our grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide is really close to a thousand bears and greater, and it's on an upward swing.”
That upward swing may mean a change in the bears' protected status.
“We're at a point now where we're close to delisting the population,” Madel said. “The state would take over that responsibility and it will be the states responsibility to manage the Grizzly bear population like they do Mountain lion or wolves or other wildlife.”
Which could mean more aggressive management and even a grizzly hunting season.
Here is more safety information about living in bear country from FWP:
Nine times out of ten, bears that repeatedly get into attractants around our homes are eventually euthanized. Please help save Montana bears from this needless by learning some tips to help keep your residence bear-friendly.
Do not put out salt licks, grain, or deer blocks to attract wild animals as these create areas of concentrated animal scent that will then draw in bears and mountain lions.
Use native plant landscaping whenever possible. Be aware that a watered lawn with lush grass, clover, and dandelions is an attractive feeding site for bears.
Close all windows when not at home or when cooking.
Talk to your children about bears and how to avoid them.
Have a plan in case a bear comes inside your home and keep bear pepper spray handy. Give a bear that is in your home an escape route by propping all doors open with something heavy that will act as a doorstop.
Never approach a bear in your yard, always give bears an escape route and never crowd or harass a bear.
Learn about bear attractants, how to tell if your residence is bear-friendly, and some bear-aware tools to help keep bears wild.
Don't Feed Bears! It is unlawful to intentionally, or to inadvertently feed bears. Those who do will be warned and possibly cited under this important Montana Law.
If You Care, Leave Them There: Sometimes people find young bears and other species and think they are abandoned or orphaned. This is often not true. If you care, leave them there.