By Tyler Allen
EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – During the July Fourth holiday weekend, a young male grizzly bear was struck and killed by a vehicle on Highway 191 south of Big Sky.
The bear fit the description of a grizzly that has been frequenting the Big Sky area this spring and summer, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear biologist Kevin Frey.
The young bruin weighed just over 200 pounds and Frey estimates he was 2-and-a-half years old—this was likely his first year on his own.
Big Sky residents have been reporting sightings since late winter, when a small grizzly was spotted at Big Sky Resort while there was still snow on the ground. Frey received a handful of similar reports from the Big Sky Resort Golf Course to Lone Mountain Ranch, and other areas between the mountain and meadow.
In the week prior to the fatality, residents south of the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill spotted a young grizzly in this area, according to Frey. “A couple people reported they had seen trashcans knocked over and trash spread around. It’s highly likely this bear was getting into the trashcans.”
Trash is the No. 1 attractant for bears in Big Sky, according to Kris Inman of the Wilderness Conservation Society, who coordinates the Bear Smart Big Sky program.
“We don’t want bears to die by being habituated to trash,” she said.
Inman estimates that 60-70 percent of Big Sky residents use bear-resistant trashcans, but much of that can be attributed to ordinances mandated by homeowners associations.
Currently, no HOAs along Highway 191 require residents to use bear-resistant cans, she said, though some people in that area have purchased them voluntarily.
“Big Sky is in some of the best bear country in southwest Montana, and black bears have been the issue we’ve mostly been dealing with,” Inman said. “With grizzlies recovering and moving out of Yellowstone National Park … it ups the stakes a little bit for being prepared to live with bears in Big Sky.”
Reducing bear-human conflicts here will require a community wide commitment to using bear-resistant trashcans, she says, but there’s a lot of confusion about the cost to upgrade since people choose different billing plans with Republic Services.
Typically, it’s an additional $1.40 per week or $6 per month to use the new cans, she said.
Bear Smart Big Sky is rolling out a new campaign this year to help inform both residents and visitors about strategies for living in bear country. In the coming weeks they’ll be distributing posters and fliers with information about how to reduce encounters while recreating; reduce attractants around your home; handle a bear encounter; and where to report a sighting or encounter.
Visit bscomt.org/natural-resource-council/bear-smart to learn more about Bear Smart Big Sky or to report a bear sighting.