Bears, Bozeman, and Beyond

Spring has sprung, and we aren't the only ones waking up from a long winter. All over Montana, warmer weather is bringing grizzlies out of their dens.

When bears awake, they are sort of in a daze, and their only intent is to find food and find it quickly. They're out searching in the same places that you and I are taking our first day hikes, bike rides, or horse rides. Here are a few ways to avoid unwanted bear encounters.

Make Noise and Protect Yourself
First off, avoid areas experiencing bear activity. Travel in groups and during daylight hours. Remember to make noise; bears want to avoid us as much as we want to avoid them. Make your presence known by calling out or clapping, especially around loud streams, on windy days, and in areas of low visibility. (Although bear bells are a joke to locals, they do actually work.) Stay on trails to reduce the chance of sudden encounters, and of course, always carry and know how to use bear spray.

Don't Leave a Buffet in Your Backyard
When natural foods are sparse, as is typical in spring, bears will seek out unnatural sources of food, showing up in people's backyards in the spring and all summer long. Bears that become habituated to human food sources can become aggressive and threaten property, pets, and people; most of these bears end up dead because of the risk they pose. It is our responsibility to keep these attractants away from bears. In fact, Montana law (SB 104 Sec. 87-3-130) restricts people from "knowingly providing food sources to bears."

-If you live in bear country, keep your garbage inside until collection day. You can also ask your sanitation company for bear-resistant trash cans.
-Never leave pet food dishes outside.
-Keep your bird feeders at least eight feet above ground and four feet from any structure. Be sure to put them away in mid-September.
-Burn grills clean and store them in your garage when they're not in use.
-Secure livestock grains and salt blocks.
-Finally, fence in fruit trees and bushes and remove compost piles during summer.

If we all do our part and act responsibly, we can avoid following in the footsteps of states like Colorado and California, where grizzlies are nothing more than memories.

For more information on staying safe in bear country, visit

Smokey and the Bandits: Why Bears Aren't the Only Wildlife in Your Trash

Bears aren't the only conflict-prone species awakening from their winter torpor. Skunks and raccoons will also take full advantage of their surroundings by raiding garbage cans, pet food sacks, and bird feeders in search of food. Here's what to do this spring to avoid a nasty encounter.

The most likely victim of skunk run-ins is the family dog; however, the family cat and even children can get themselves into trouble. Avoid becoming a skunk hotel by keeping pet food and garbage inside; removing old brush, lumber, or scrap piles (these are good skunk dens); and boarding up crawl spaces beneath decks, sheds, or other outbuildings. You can use chicken wire to block crawls spaces, but bury it at least six inches deep and set it in an "L" shape extending out another six inches to prevent tunneling. Mothballs or ammonia-soaked rags oftentimes work as repellents when placed in entrances to dens or along routes skunks may travel.

Raccoons are extremely intelligent and are amazing climbers. They will scale fences, roofs, and chimneys to find food. Unsecured pet food and garbage cans are oftentimes a raccoon's primary motivation, but they are also known to eat fish from backyard ponds and eggs from chicken coops. Gardens and fruit trees are also easy targets.

Raccoons can carry rabies, which could be transmitted to family pets. They can also cause a lot of property damage by prying apart roofing shingles or denning in chimneys. Again, storing pet food and trash indoors is key, but if you have to keep it outside, at least use containers with locking or heavy lids. Position your trashcans so they're less prone to tipping.

Electric fences and motion lights around gardens and fruit trees are good ideas, and you should trim overhanging branches far enough away from roofs to discourage climbing. Also, cover your chimney with a chimney cap or a heavy metal screen.

Skunks and raccoons are not the only damaging wildlife adapting to urban and suburban areas. Deer, moose, elk, and many other common game animals can also become nuisances. It is important for people to remember that the animals were at home in these areas first, that these animals are wild, and they should stay that way. For more information on how to keep our wildlife and property safe, refer to the following websites:

—Kurt Dehmer