Being bear-friendly in Montana is a commitment. Sometimes it may mean sacrificing the opportunity to see a bear or take pictures of it—for the welfare of the bear. It may also mean taking extra steps to prevent bears from finding sources of food on your property.
"A fed bear is a dead bear."
Once a bear is food trained, it is difficult and often times impossible to retrain them. That is why biologist so often say a fed bear is a dead bear.
It’s especially important to maintain a bear-friendly residence that is free of bear attractants. It often takes dilligence and commitment to live in bear country. Learn more by taking the residential assessment to find unsuspecting attractants around your home. Once you have filled out the assessment form, you may contact a bear manager near you for more information and assistance.
Can you identify the irresistible bear foods in the picture below? Many items around your home may attract bears. [Learn more]
Click on the items in the photo below that you think bears can't resist.
A carcass that has been stripped down to bone and cleaned, or bleached bone, is not considered a bear attractant. However, if the carcass was fresh, smelly, or still had meat or viscera attached, it would be considered an attractant.
Human garbage is a primary bear attractant. Garbage left out over night has a 70 percent chance of attracting a bear. Garbage put out in the morning has only a two percent chance of attracting a bear.* Leaving smelly trash out overnight will give bears time to find it and get into it—this acts as a food reward to the bears and encourages them to continue to visit. Trash should be stored during the week in a bear-proof location, such as bear resistant containers, or store food-related garbage in a secure building bears can't get into. Always keep your trash container clean. Store especially smelly garbage, such as meat or fish scraps, in a freezer until they can be taken to a refuse site.
Securely store recyclables, such as pop cans, indoors—the sweet smells attract bears. Decrease odors by storing garbage in tightly tied, heavy-duty bags, and garbage cans with tight lids. Remove garbage regularly.
*1994 Arizona study
All human food is a bear attractant. Thoroughly wash or store any outdoor items, such as barbeque grills, portable smokers, ice chests, and coolers. Beverage cans and bottles are also attractants. Close all windows when cooking.
Avoid bird feeders March through November. Birds don't need supplemental feed at this time, and birdseed is irresistible to bears. It is best not to have bird feeders, but if you do, bird and hummingbird feeders should be hung 10 feet up and 4 feet out from a stout support such as a tree, with a rope and pulley system for refilling them. When using birdseed, store it in a bear-proof container in a secure location. Hummingbird feeders are especially attractive to bears. Seeds, including sunflower seeds, and sweetened liquids are high in calories.
Grills with food and grease attract bears. Keep grills clean after each use and store them in a secure location. Do not store propane tanks from grills indoors, due to the fire hazard. Attend to food as it cooks outdoors, and when it is done promptly remove anything that would attract a bear including coolers, utensils, leftovers and used paper plates and cups.
Compost piles should be limited to grass, leaves, and garden clippings and should be turned regularly. Adding lime can reduce smells and help decomposition. Do not add food scraps. Kitchen scraps can be composted indoors in a worm box with minimum odor and the finished compost can later be added to garden soil.
Bears crave fruit including apples, plums, and chokecherries. Pick all ripe fruit from trees and the ground as soon as possible. Do not allow fruit to rot on the ground or leave fruit on trees through the fall. Bears can severely damage a tree laden with ripe fruit. Electric fencing properly used will protect gardens and fruit trees from bears. These fences need to yield at least 3,000 volts to be effective.
Gardens should be harvested immediately as vegetables, fruits, and herbs mature. Locate your garden as far away from your house and away from natural bear cover as possible. Blood meal and fish fertilize also attract bears. Vegetable gardens can also be protected by an electric fence.
If you absolutely do not want bears in your yard it would be best to remove all fruit-bearing trees and berry-producing shrubs in favor of trees and shrubs that don't attract bears.
Livestock feed should be stored in bear-proof containers, preferably inside a sturdy building that bears cannot enter. Reduce the spillage of oats and pellets by feeding from buckets or other containers, and do not leave livestock food out overnight. Pens should be placed at least 50 yards from wooded areas or places that may provide cover for bears.
If you find that bears have found your livestock feed, remove the attractants immediately.
Don't leave food or garbage in a vehicle or the back of a pick-up truck as bears will pry open the windows and doors to access even traces of food on old paper plates or drops of soda pop in used cups.
Bears love honey and seek bee larvae in beehives. You can protect the hives with electric fencing or by elevating the hives on platforms 15-20' above the ground. These can be supported by metal poles that bears can't climb. Beehives should be located 50 yards from forests or other sources of cover for bears.
Pet food and food bowls should not be filled and left out overnight, or left unattended. Pet food should be stored inside and pets fed inside. If you must feed pets outdoors, sweep up any spilled food immediately and bring bowls in at night. Especially avoid feeding pets outside at dawn or dusk when bears are most active. Store pet food in a safe, secured area or bear-proof container.
Dogs and other pets should be kept indoors at night.
Nonfood items and items with no smell of food are not bear attractants.
Do not put out salt licks, grain, deer blocks, or any supplemental feed to attract wild animals as these create areas of concentrated animal scent that will draw in bears and mountain lions. According to MCA 87-3-130 it is illegal to provide supplemental feed to game animals.
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.