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Bear awareness critical as hibernation nears

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By Bella Butler EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – After several reports of bear disruption in a Big Sky homeowners association, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on Sept. 18 trapped and euthanized a female black bear in the interest of human safety. 

The 172-pound bear was put down after residents and renters in the Hidden Village neighborhood complained that the sow had been raiding cars, trash cans and font stoops the past few weeks, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 3 information and education program manager Morgan Jacobsen. 

As bears prepare for a long winter of hibernation, they enter a phase of excessive eating and drinking called hyperphagia. While they remain active in human communities throughout the summer, bear activity tends to ramp up in fall as they hunt vigorously for food. 

“During that time, bears are active for more hours of the day really focused on consuming calories and protein in prep of hibernation,” said Jacobsen. “They may also have reduced situational awareness during that time as well.”

The euthanized bear was the second of two in the Big Sky area that FWP has put down this summer, a decision that’s at the discretion of FWP, according to Jacobsen.  

“If a bear is obviously conditioned to get food sources from urban areas or developed areas where people are,” Jacobsen said, “it’s not something that relocating the bear will likely solve because bears are creatures of habit. Once they get an easy food source from an anthropogenic area, they’re going to keep coming back to it and so relocating the bear would more or less just move the problem to another area.” 

To put it in perspective, Jacobsen said, FWP has euthanized two bears in the Big Sky area but has received 25-30 reports of bear incidents throughout the season. He added that reports of bear incidents in the area have picked up in the last few weeks.

“We’re aware of a lot of different conflicts happening [from the Yellowstone Club to U.S. Highway 191] kind of recently and so that’s something we’re watching closely,” Jacobsen said. He added that FWP’s is currently focused on educating people to prevent further conflicts with these bears. 

Jacobsen said most of the bear interactions occurring in Big Sky right now are the product of a common narrative: “Bears getting into garbage cans that are left out that are not certified bear resistant, and the bear gets the food reward and it keeps coming back.” 

Properly storing garbage is at the top of FWP’s recommendations for how to keep bears out of urban areas. In addition to measures people can take at home, Jacobsen said it’s important for recreationists in the area to remain astute and make frequent noise when they’re in bar country. 

“In places where we have recreationists … bears may not be able to detect human presence as quickly and as easily as they would at other times of the year,” Jacobsen said of the hyperphagia period. See page 23 for more tips on staying safe while recreating in bear country.

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