BEAR SMART BIG SKY

BIG SKY – The Spanish Peaks and Big Sky homeowner associations passed resolutions earlier this year requiring that their members transition to using bear-resistant trash can service by this fall. Currently, 20 percent of Big Sky homeowners have voluntarily purchased bear-resistant curbside trash can service.

Big Sky is located in some of the best bear habitat in southwest Montana, and human-bear conflicts have increased as the community has grown. Trash is the No. 1 cause of these encounters, because bears that are habituated to trash become bolder in frequenting residential areas and can pose a risk to people.

These “nuisance” animals are either relocated or destroyed and 15 bears have been lethally removed from Big Sky since 2000. Avoiding these conflicts in the future will demand a consistent community response.

Bear Smart Big Sky – a program of the Big Sky Community Corp., community leaders, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Republic Services of Montana – is working to help residents transition to trash containers that are safer and cleaner for both people and area wildlife.

The program uses a three-pronged approach to reduce human-bear conflicts: waste management, a regulatory framework, and education and outreach.

“The 20 percent of homeowners that voluntarily select bear-resistant trash cans and the recent HOA resolutions have set a higher bar towards a more bear-responsible community,” said Kris Inman, the Wildlife Conservation Society Community Partnership Representative based in Ennis.

“They join Big Sky’s property managers, Big Sky Resort, Firelight Meadows, Yellowstone Club, and others that moved to bear-resistant trash systems in their subdivisions or rental properties,” she said.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear specialist Kevin Frey agrees progress has been made, but urges that more needs to be done to reduce conflicts in Big Sky.

“Much of the community has taken its own initiative through bear-resistant trash management but it is not enough,” Frey said. “There needs to be a consistent strategy if we are to see a real reduction in conflicts. With grizzly bears expanding into Big Sky, it becomes more important to get ahead of trash as an attractant.”

Republic Services – formerly Allied Waste – has serviced Big Sky’s sanitation needs for more than 20 years and believes that the success of the transition to bear-resistant trash receptacles hinges on keeping costs to the homeowner low.

“We’ve made significant investments in our bear-proof services because it’s the right thing to do to protect area residents and wildlife,” said Kirk Treege, General Manger of Republic Service of Montana. “We are behind this proactive approach for coexistence and sustainability.”

Republic Services, along with Bear Smart Big Sky, has sourced a new and improved bear-resistant curbside can and developed a financial program that includes repair and replacement at approximately $6 per month. Certified bear-resistant curbside trash can service will be available from Republic Services later this summer.

“We feel confident that the cost to change to bear-resistant curbside service is fair and reasonable, and hope that the community will be in support,” Inman said.

The next Bear Smart Big Sky meeting is June 24 at 9 a.m. at the Town Center Sales Office. For more information contact Kris Inman at (406) 682-3437 or kinman@wcs.org. For inquiries about bear-resistant curbside trash service, call Republic Services at (406) 582-6660.