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FWP: Increased bear activity seen Missoula, Bitterroot and Blackfoot valleys

Increased bear activity in Western Montana is serving as a reminder to be extra "bear aware" right now
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Posted at 8:29 AM, Oct 09, 2023

MISSOULA — State wildlife officials say they have received an increasing number of reports of bears in the Missoula, Bitterroot and Blackfoot valleys this week.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says people to be "bear aware" as bears are extra active this time of year — especially in lower elevations — where they can find more food as the animals get ready for winter. FWP is advising people to be extra cautious when outdoors and put away all items that attract bears around our homes and neighborhoods, such as garbage and bird feeders.

According to a new release, most of the bears being reported in the valley bottoms of Western Montana over the last few weeks have been black bears.

FWP also notes that black bears are not always black in color, and several seen recently in the Missoula and Bitterroot areas have lighter coats, which has led to misidentification. For example, several black bears seen and photographed near Stevensville have light fur and have been confused with grizzly bears.
Additionally, several lighter-colored black bears have been reported in near Greenough Park in Missoula. FWP notes that no grizzlies have been confirmed in the Rattlesnake area in recent weeks.

There is one confirmed grizzly bear spending time in the northern Bitterroot Valley right now. FWP says the bear was first documented in early August when it was "incidentally captured" as part of a Bitterroot black bear research study and has remained in the area since. The grizzly has been spotted several times between Lolo and Florence.

While FWP reports the bear hasn’t been involved in any conflicts but has found apple trees in a few locations, including at least one tree near a home. Picking apples and collecting those apples that have already fallen, especially on trees near homes, is the most reliable strategy against preventing conflicts with humans, FWP advises.

Multiple black bears in the Bitterroot have been finding garbage, in addition to fruit trees and other attractants. Wildlife officials note that bears in the Bitterroot Valley often have a hard time staying to natural foods because of the magnitude of attractants available to them,

FWP reports black bears —and several grizzlies — have been regularly looking for food in and around homes in the Blackfoot Valley near Potomac.

Unsecured garbage is the key issue in keeping bears in the area, the release states. People should set out their garbage just before collection, or use bear-resistant garbage cans, which are available from local garbage collection companies.

“Bears are in hyperphagia right now and will continue to come down into our valleys over the next month, looking for food as they prepare for winter, so it’s an extra critical time to keep everything picked up around our houses,” said FWP bear management specialist Jamie Jonkel. “Given the number of bears in these areas, it really is up to each of us to take preventative measures to stay safe. If there’s an unsecured food item out there, it is best to assume that a bear will find it.”

The website, missoulabears.org provides information from area partners on how to keep property bear-resistant and also provides a spot to track recent wildlife activity and report attractant issues and wildlife sightings.

FWP offers the following tips to secure attractants and increase safety this fall.

How to avoid attracting bears to your property:

  • Keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other attractants put away in a secure building. Certified bear-resistant cans are available in many areas.
  • Bears are attracted to fruit-bearing trees and bushes, gardens and compost piles. Electric fencing can be effective at deterring bears as well as routinely picking fallen and ripe fruit.
  • Never feed wildlife. Any food left out can attract bears, and bears that become food-conditioned lose their natural foraging behavior and pose threats to human safety.  It is illegal to feed wildlife in Montana.
  • Secure livestock (chickens, goats, sheep) with an electric fence whenever possible.

Tips for recreating in bear country:

  • Carry bear spray close at hand and know how to use it.
  • Travel in groups whenever possible.
  • Make noise, especially near streams or in thick forest where hearing and visibility is limited. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know they are present.
  • If you are attacked by a bear and you are without a deterrent or the deterrent hasn’t worked, stay face down on the ground, protecting your face and neck with your arms. Stay still until you’re certain the bear has moved away.
  • Avoid carcass sites and concentrations of ravens and other scavengers.
  • Watch for signs of bears such as scat, diggings, torn-up logs and turned over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.
  • Don't approach a bear.

For more information on being "bear aware", visit fwp.mt.gov/bear-aware.