By Tyler Allen, Explorebigsky.com Staff Writer

BIG SKY – Wildfire and bears are at the
top of the list for the Big Sky Natural
Resource Council this summer.
An active fire season in Montana and
the incident of a grizzly bear shot near
Ousel Falls in late May have put these
two issues at the forefront of concerns
in the Big Sky area.
Funds from the Big Sky Resort Tax
allocations will help—The Big Sky
Forest Health and Fire Safety Program
received $15,600 or 100 percent of
the funding requested, while the Bear
Aware program requested $10,000 and
was awarded $7,000.
The Big Sky Forest Health and Fire
Safety Program educates and assists
homeowners with a number of
forestry-related issues and has received
resort tax funding for the last six years,
which is matched federally. The group’s
forestry workshops—like the one on
June 29 attended by about 20 landowners—
are supported in part by the
resort tax money, as is the work it does
to assist property owners with forest
stewardship plans.
Since receiving the resort tax funding
this year, BSNRC hasn’t utilized any
of the money yet. “It usually takes
about a month to get all of the agreements
signed,” said Crystal Hagerman,
Natural Resource Agent with the MSU
Extension and a representative for the
BSNRC.
The most important outreach during
this hot and dry summer is wildfire
education, according to Hagerman.
Part of the $15,600 will go toward paying
someone on the ground to educate
homeowners. Also, by advertising
through the fire department, forestry
contractors, and by word of mouth,
the BSNRC connects with residents
concerned about the safety of their
homes during fire season. Sometimes,
Hagerman says, the answer is as simple
as removing fuels growing near the
building.
BSNRC has a booth at the Wednesday
night farmers markets in Big Sky
this summer, and is planning a public
informational meeting on Wednesday,
Aug. 15 at 3:30 p.m. at the Big Sky Fire
Station.
Also in August the group hopes to announce
a large increase in funding from
the federal government. “[We would]
look forward to not requesting resort
tax funding next year,” Hagerman said.
The Bear Aware program received 70
percent of the resort tax funding it
requested this year, which will allow it
to accomplish a number of objectives,
said BSNRC board member Kevin
Germain.
“The plans will not be shelved, but will
be scaled back according to the funding
received,” Germain said.
Those include creating a bear stewardship
committee, conducting a bear
hazard assessment, developing and
implementing an education program
that will reach all sectors of the Big
Sky community, and initiating ways to
better manage and enforce bear-human
conflicts.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, a
national organization with an office in
Ennis, is in the process of drawing up a
proposal for the hazard assessment.
Some of the resort tax funding will be
used on the hazard assessment if WCS
comes back with an acceptable bid on
the proposal, and the bear stewardship
committee will likely be formed in
September or October, Germain said.
“Since bear season is well underway
the funding will be used to try and get a
plan in place for the 2013 bear season,”
he added.
In the meantime, said BSNRC board
member Jessie Neal, homeowners
should be responsible with garbage,
which is one of the leading causes of
bear-human conflicts. Unlike other
communities with large bear populations,
Big Sky has not mandated businesses
to use bear-resistant garbage
containers. Concerned citizens should
encourage them to do so, Neal said.
“Without enforcement from an
ordinance, peer pressure is one way
to make things change in Big Sky,”
she said. Neal also encouraged people
not to put their garbage out until the
morning of pick up and not to leave it
out overnight.
Bear-resistant trash enclosures are
available for purchase through Allied
Waste and were successful during a
pilot project in a neighborhood up
Chief Joseph Trail, Neal said. Several
property management companies have
put them out, as have some homeowners
in bear-sensitive areas. However,
the containers cost $11 more a month
because the locking lids require more
maintenance and labor by the collectors.
Other bear attractants besides garbage
include animal feed, bird feeders,
compost heaps, gardens and fruit trees.
The Bear Aware hazard assessment
will address these different issues during
the upcoming fall and winter, and
come up with management strategies
for each.