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Living with Bear by Kim Annis

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Both black bear and grizzly inhabit this area Both black bear and grizzly inhabit this area

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear specialist Kim Annis talks about how to be "bear aware."

Even though spring seems slow in arriving, bears are already beginning to emerge from their winter dens. Bears generally emerge from their winter slumber from the end of March through the middle of May. Grizzly bears typically emerge ahead of black bears, with males waking up first and females with cubs waking up last. Grizzly bears and black bears eat similar foods and in the spring are looking for green vegetation consisting in part of grasses, sedges, and succulent forbs (which make up 90 percent of their spring diet). Grizzly bears will dig for roots or corms, much more than black bears will, with digging sites resembling an area that has been rototilled. Bears will also feed on winter-killed big game.

The spring black bear hunt for begins on April 15 and runs to May 15 in Lincoln and Sanders counties. Black bear hunters need to be sure they can identify the difference between and black bear and a grizzly bear to prevent killing a grizzly bear as a result of mistaken identity. A good way to refresh on your identification skills is by going to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bear Identification Test website at: http://fwp.mt.gov/bearid/default.html.

Hunters, hikers, and recreationists alike should consider carrying bear spray in the backcountry. There are a variety of products out there, but you should be sure to only purchase a canister whose label clearly indicates it’s a concentration of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids intended for use on bears. Canisters of pepper spray designed for use on humans are not suitable for use on bears and can put you at risk when they don’t perform as needed during a confrontation with a bear. Bear spray is designed to create a cloud of strong irritants between you and the bear, reducing the likelihood of a negative encounter from occurring. It may be an effective tool in situations where wounding or killing the bear may be unnecessary and may reduce the intensity of an attack already in progress.

Every year, human-related food kills bears in Montana. Garbage, apples, plums, birdseed, pet food and gardens are easy, calorie-rich foods and once bears discover them they will almost immediately favor them over finding the more difficult and lower calorie natural bear foods, such as clover, grasses, ants, and wild berries. A bear seeking human-related foods is certain to come into conflict with people sooner or later. It is a headache for the homeowner and can be deadly for the bears. It is often useless to capture and relocate a bear that has become used to people and their foods. Instead, because of their learned behaviors, many of these bears will have to be killed. The most effective way to prevent conflicts with bears is to prevent them from obtaining human foods or garbage in the first place. It’s that simple… and that difficult. If every individual does their part, bear problems could be virtually eliminated in entire neighborhoods and communities. Common bear attractants include: BBQ grills, pets and pet food, garbage, livestock feed, birdfeeders, gardens, compost piles and fruit trees. Storing attractants in secure locations, such as in buildings, bear-resistant containers, or behind electric fencing, can prevent a bear from getting them altogether.

For more information on hunting and recreating in bear country, bear spray, living with bears, and effective bear deterrents (such as electric fencing and bear-resistant containers), to report encounters or conflicts with bears, or for information on grizzly bear recovery in the Cabinet-Yaak, contact your local bear manager, Kim Annis, at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Libby office at 293-4161 extension 107. For more information on being Bear Aware go to the FWP website at http://fwp.mt.gov and click on ‘Be Bear Aware’ under ‘Conservation’.

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Landon Otis

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