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Keep the Wild in Wildlife for Successful Coexistence

May 6, 2011 | by Diane Tipton

Montana's wildlife is one of the big benefits of being a Montanan—for newcomers and old-timers alike. But enthusiasm quickly turns to frustration when bears, deer, elk, beavers, coyotes, ravens—you name it—come into conflict with our expectations.

That is when Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks gets a call.

At one time, relocating a wild animal was a quick band-aid. These days, experts recognize the better long-term solution is to identify what the troublesome critter is attracted to and deal with it.

'Dealing with it' differs depending on the situation—for example, it might mean erecting electric fence around a beehive, feeding pets indoors rather than outdoors, purchasing a bear resistant garbage receptacle, or removing landscaping in favor of deer resistant shrubs and flowers.

Here is how to begin. 

Find the Root Cause    

Sleuth work will reveal the root cause of a conflict.  "If I were a deer/skunk/bear, why would I come here?"  The answer may be found in your own yard, or the yards of one or more of your neighbors.

Think Food/Water/Shelter

The vast majority of wildlife visits and conflicts are directly linked to food, water and shelter.  We cultivate irresistible wildlife habitat around our homes. It is like extending a nonverbal welcome mat. 

Landscape plantings, flowers, vegetable gardens, fruit trees and accumulations of spilled birdseed are a smorgasbord to deer.  Backyard goldfish ponds are watering holes.  A duck or an unwary deer attracted to a secluded back yard is, in turn, an easy meal for a mountain lion.

Suet, birdseed, compost heaps and garbage containers are irresistible to hungry bears.  The shelter provided under decks, porches and outbuildings attracts a variety of creatures, including skunks, raccoons and snakes.  When wildlife makes use of such "hangouts" it is likely pet foods, compost heaps, spilled bird seed, unsecured garbage, and other sources of food are nearby.

Fixes for Common Problems

Once the attractants are identified, a homeowner can remove them or make them more secure.  It is always better to head off potential problems before a conflict with wildlife occurs.  Unsecured garbage and other sources of human or pet food are a particular problem.

It is Montana Law

Montana law makes it illegal to provide supplemental food attractants to "game animals," including deer, elk and other ungulates, bears, or mountain lions, or to fail to properly store feed so ungulates, bears or mountain lions have access to it.            

Artificial concentrations of game animals may lead to automobile collisions, physical dangers to people and pets, and transmission of wildlife diseases.  It also may lead to the removal or euthanasia of the animal itself—definitely a lose/lose situation.

Wild animals don't grasp concepts like private property or living up to our expectations. But it is fairly easy to communicate that there is no benefit in hanging around your home or business to raid a bee hive, eat the tulips, or rip into the garbage. Just make sure there isn't! They'll get the message in no time.

Learn more about Living With Wildlife.