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Bear Basics with Bernadette

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Staying in tune with spring’s green wave


In high elevation regions, spring rolls out in what wildlife researchers have coined the “Green Wave.” Bright green shoots and trees bud out at lower elevations and make a slow climb up the mountains. Herbivores like elk, deer and pronghorn follow this green wave, feeding on fresh vegetation after a long winter of living on old, decadent vegetation.

Bears, as omnivores and opportunistic feeders, have been waiting since they emerged from their dens to take advantage of spring’s green up, eating young grasses, cow parsnip and other vegetation as it blossoms and unfurls its leaves.

Not surprisingly, as people often report in Big Sky, bears are seen in the first areas to green up.

As spring progresses and moves into summer, meat becomes an important part of a bear’s diet as elk begin calving and deer have their fawns. Later in the summer, if it is a good year for the fluctuating seed crops of whitebark pine trees, red squirrels will take to their job of clipping the whitebark pine cones and storing them in middens at the base of the trees. Bears root these pine cones out as a high-protein food source to get them through the upcoming winter. In the meantime, insects and berries will satisfy a bear’s diet.

This is how we would like to see bears behave: following the natural flow of the food nature provides. But, because bears are well-adapted to take advantage of a variety of natural food sources, this same behavior makes it easy for a bear to turn to anthropogenic attractants, like trash, coolers and pet foods, that are also readily available.

At this time of the year, when the green wave makes its way to the golf courses, ski runs, open spaces and stream beds, bears will be drawn closer to people. As residents and visitors, you can do your part to keep bears and Big Sky wild by storing pet foods inside, burning off your grill for 10 minutes after use, keeping grease in a bear-resistant container, and bringing in the bird feeders until next winter.  

To learn more about bears and the actions you can take to reduce human conflicts with bears, follow Bernadette Bear on social media @bearsmartbigsky. Help support Bernadette in her campaign to create a more bear-safe and bear-aware community in Big Sky, and look for the launch of our “What’s Your Wild Wednesday’s” on social media.

Kris Inman is the community partnerships coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society and oversees the Bear Smart Big Sky campaign.

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