RED LODGE — Red Lodge residents and businesses will get their first warning next week – in the form of a letter from City Hall – about illegally feeding bears.
The letter, signed by City Commission Chair Gloria Mahan and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Shawn Stewart, will go out to anyone who gets a utility bill or has other correspondence with city government. It warns residents and business owners that feeding bears – deliberately or inadvertently – is illegal.
“Black bears scattering garbage in our alleys and along our streets create unsightly and unsanitary messes that are exploited by other animals, both wild and domestic,” the letter says. “While Red Lodge black bears have not shown aggression toward people, public safety concerns remain a consideration. Of equal, if not greater, importance is the fact that grizzly bear numbers are increasing on the Beartooth Face. Failure to address the garbage problem in Red Lodge would inevitably result in grizzlies coming into town.”
Bears are emerging from their winter hibernation, FWP game warden Kevin Nichols of Red Lodge said Friday. People have seen a few bears cruising through town looking for food. But Montana law makes it illegal to provide food for bears, either purposely or negligently.
Last summer Allied Waste provided all homes in Red Lodge with bear-resistant garbage cans, Nichols said. The city contracts with Allied Waste to pick up residential trash. The move was a major step toward addressing the garbage problem, Nichols said.
But businesses contract separately for their trash disposal, he said, and they do not have bear-resistant containers. Still, they remain legally responsible for keeping their trash cans, dumpsters, cooking grease barrels and other attractants out of the reach of bears. The letter encourages them to seal waste containers or make arrangements with Allied Waste for bear-resistant dumpsters.
Montana law allows wardens to issue a warning for the first instance of negligence before issuing a citation. The letter is intended to serve notice that feeding bears deliberately or by neglect will not be tolerated.
“Anyone who feeds bears deliberately will immediately get a citation,” Nichols said. “If I see someone throwing onion rings to a bear, they will get a citation.”
Nichols said he fears that successfully blocking bears from residential trash in Red Lodge may drive the animals to homes outside of the city. Nichols encouraged homeowners in the surrounding countryside to also stow trash away from bears and pick up bird feeders, barbeque grills and other things that could attract bears.