Bears are fast learners. What they have learned from several consecutive years of drought may be to forage for food near residences, say Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear management specialists.
“We’ve had an unusual number of calls about bears in yards and on the fringes of communities this year,” said Gary Hammond, FWP Wildlife Division bureau chief. “Even in areas where good natural food sources are available, the last few lean years seem to have conditioned some bears to look for quick, easy meals first.”
To reduce the chances of a conflict with a bear, homeowners can bear proof their homes and outbuildings by putting away any grain, dog food, birdseed or hummingbird feeders, compost or open garbage receptacles that could attract bears.
Bears with easy access to food sources around homes and cabins may not return to their natural foods.
“If it is easy for a bear to get what it needs in someone’s back yard, it will do so rather than seek out natural foods,” Hammond said. “That puts a bear on the road to trouble because it begins to spend more time in populated areas.”
A human conflict with a bear often results in a call to FWP to remove and relocate the bear. FWP has a “three strikes you’re out” bear policy. An animal that returns time and again after it is relocated is considered a threat to public safety and is euthanized.
Hammond said now is when homeowners need to make an extra effort to help bears out by removing bear attractants. If bears can’t find foods near residences and the fringes of communities, they will go back to their natural food sources.
Any home next to Montana’s forests or wild lands may be within bear country, and bears occasionally wander into towns and neighborhoods searching for food. Anything people or their pets eat will attract bears. Bears learn quickly where to find these sources of food and make a habit of returning. People who live in or near bear habitat can prevent good bears from learning bad-bear behavior by eliminating bear attractants.
Around the Yard:
· Birdseed and hummingbird feeders should be hung 10 feet up and 4 feet out from the nearest trees and with a rope and pulley system for refilling them.
· 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.
· Barbeque grills should be cleaned and stored after each use in a secure shed or garage.
· Fruit should be picked from trees when ripe and fallen fruit immediately collected. Do not allow fruit to rot on the ground.
· Compost piles should be limited to grass, leaves, and garden clippings, and turn piles 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.
· Gardens should be harvested immediately as vegetables, fruits and herbs mature. Locate gardens away from forests and shrubs that a bear may use for cover. Do not use blood meal.
· Landscaping, especially clover and dandelion roots will attract bears. Use native plant landscaping whenever possible, and do not seed in clover.
· Beehives, honey and bee larvae are especially attractive to bars. If you keep hives, elevate them on bear-proof platforms
· Store garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or dumpsters.
· Or, store food-related garbage in a secure building bears can’t get into.
· Store empty 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.
· Store especially smelly garbage, such as meat or fish scraps, in a freezer until they can be taken to a refuse site.