By Katie Morrison

There has been an increasing awareness of bears in our community in the past few years following several human-bear conflicts in the area. As summer winds down and temperatures cool, animals are on the move. This is the time to continue being conscious of bears in our neighborhoods. With reports of bears breaking into houses and vehicles during the summer and fall of 2010, many new efforts were instigated to address these concerns, with great results.

One of the most common attractants for bears in residential areas is trash. I was recently on my way home on a Friday evening to find a vacation rental neighbor putting trash out. I stopped by to politely request that they wait until Monday to put out their trash, notifying them of our bear concerns.

During the few minutes I was there, two other neighbors also came by to make sure they were not going to be leaving their trash out for the weekend. This impromptu “neighborhood watch” made me feel comfortable that the residents in my immediate area are not leaving out trash, bird feeders or greasy BBQ’s. Bears are habituated to look for such attractants and still walk down our street in search of an easy dinner.

Recognizing that addressing trash in a wildlife responsible manner is the first step in reducing potential conflicts, numerous groups have taken steps to do just that. The Big Sky Community Corporation has recently partnered with Bozeman Audi and Montana Import Group to handle trash removal for the parks and trails, while also educating the public.

These groups have provided funding for a wildlife resistant trash enclosure at the recently renovated Big Sky Community Park, which is the transfer station for all of the BSCC’s park and trail trash receptacles. They have also provided signage for each of the trash receptacles that asks users to do their part through proper trash disposal.

The Big Sky Owner’s Association and Alpine Property Management have also initiated a new program through Allied Waste this summer using bear resistant trash cans for scheduled pickup.

The program has been very successful and eliminated problems in typical hot spots thus far, according to Mary Jane McGarity, Executive Director of the BSOA. However, she noted, “The true test will be how they work during the fall when the problems have historically increased.”

Using a different strategy, the Yellowstone Club is in the final stages of constructing a new trash center for YC homeowners. This facility will include a 24 cubic yard trash compactor and updated recycling services. The containers will be inside a building to protect against the elements; as well as from rodents, insects, and wildlife. A five-acre area includes the trash center and the receiving center, and will be protected by an electric wildlife fence recommended by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

“The fence also trains the animal to not come back which solves the problem long term,” explained Rich Chandler, YC Environmental Manager.

To determine the severity of the human-bear conflict issue within Big Sky, the Big Sky Natural Resource Council is currently pursuing funding to conduct a hazard assessment and to create a community bear committee to collaboratively find solutions such as the previous trash removal examples. These are the first of several steps in becoming a “BearSmart” community, which is an international program designed to help areas such as Big Sky deal with human-bear conflicts.
For more information:

• Bear tested trash cans: Allied Waste (406) 586-0606
• Bear Smart Community: bearsmart.com
• Big Sky Natural Resource Council: bigskynrc.org
• Keystone Conservation: keystoneconservation.us