Bear conflicts in the Missoula area have been lower than the past few summers, but a few recent reports of bears in yards and garbage cans reminds us that bears are still active and may wander into neighborhoods searching for food.
“Between now and the end of October bears will be actively seeking natural foods as they prepare to den,” says Jamie Jonkel, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Bear Specialist in Missoula.
Even in areas where good natural food sources are available, bears can be tempted by unnatural attractants such as dog food left in a backyard, birdseed, fruit trees or garbage cans.
“It is easy for a bear to learn bad habits if goodies are left outside of houses,” Jonkel says. “Once bears become dependent on nieghborhood food sources the behavior is hard to alter and the bears often have to be relocated. An animal that returns time and again after it is relocated is considered a threat to public safety and may have to be euthanized.”
To reduce the chances of a conflict with a bear, Jonkel says, homeowners can bear proof their homes and outbuildings by putting away backyard dog food, cleaning dirty barbeque grills, and storing garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or in a secure building.
It is best not to have bird feeders out but if they are, they should be hung ten feet up and four feet out from the nearest trees. Compost piles should be limited to grass, leaves, and garden clippings. Kitchen scraps can be composted indoors and later be added to garden soil.
“Now is a good time to remind our neighbors, new residents, and students of ways to bear proof the areas around our homes,” Jonkel says, “If bears can’t find unnatural food near residences and along the fringes of communities, they will go back to their natural food sources.”