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This Week in Fish and Wildlife: A look back at 2023 bear encounters and how to prevent them

This past summer, just in Region 3, bear encounters cost the life of one person, sent another to the hospital, and left several bears to be killed by wildlife officials.
Posted at 3:33 PM, Nov 15, 2023

Bears and humans are coming into contact with each more often. This past summer, just in Region 3, bear encounters cost the life of one person, sent another to the hospital and left several bears to be killed by wildlife officials.  MTN’s Chet Layman takes a look back at 2023 here in bear country, and at how these encounters can be prevented in the future.

BOZEMAN — It seems like bear encounters and conflicts were a big part of my reporting work this summer and early fall. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, it was and will be in the future.

“We've had four grizzly that were killed in encounters with people, we had one human fatality of course in West Yellowstone this year as well as a man who was injured just south of Big Sky this year,” said Morgan Jacobsen, information and education program manager for Montana FWP.

Those made headlines—others, however, greatly affected the overall bear population. Grizzlies aren't alone when it comes to negative encounters with people.

“So far we've had to euthanize about 10 black bears in this part of the state, unfortunately, due to those bears gaining access to things like garbage, bird feeders, pet food, things that were left outside for them to get access to,” said Jacobsen.

Jacobsen says the majority of these encounters were preventable. Look at a map: if you're west of Billings, you're in bear country and that means being prepared.

“Really what it underscores is again, Montana is bear country and we're seeing more people in bear country as well as grizzly bear populations that continue to grow as well so that inevitably leads to more encounters as well as more conflicts,” Jacobsen said.

That means the new normal for a trip out needs to include bear spray along with everything else you already take with you.

“That's part of living and enjoying this place, right? It should be second nature to just have bear spray with you and be thinking and making habits to be prepared for bear encounters that may take place,” said Jacobsen.

By the way, Jacobsen says that includes even a cross-country venture or a quick snowshoe trek. Bears do hibernate, but snow on the ground isn’t always an automatic clue that they won’t be out looking for food.