By Kris Inman EBS CONTRIBUTOR
For many of us that live in or visit the Greater Yellowstone, which comprises Yellowstone National Park’s 20 million acres and the matrix of public and private lands adjacent to the Park, we are familiar with the stories and pictures of the early days of Yellowstone where bears were regularly seen close to people.
As we know, history showed and proved that the Yellowstone dumps were a good place to see and photograph both black and grizzly bears. Eventually, bears became too comfortable around people and the Park changed its practices and closed the dumps to return bears to their wild behaviors.
While those pictures stand out and are vivid in the recesses of our minds, the link of yesterday’s lessons to today, from Yellowstone to our homes, is hard to bridge. The same story is unfolding on the lands outside of Yellowstone, and in particular, Big Sky: a growing community that sits amid some of the world’s wildest areas. We are learning that living in or visiting a wild place means that our practices must change if we are to honor the wild nature of the region.
We, like bears, are creatures of habit. We unwittingly form small pockets in Big Sky that are functioning at a smaller scale than yesterday’s dumps in Yellowstone, where non-bear-resistant trash cans (the blue trash cans) or bear-resistant trash cans (grey or black) that are overfilled and no longer functioning as intended, are attracting and conditioning bears to equate trash near homes to food. These bears soon become bolder and see an open garage door as an invitation where they may find another food reward from freezers and trash.
At first, it will take a concentrated effort to make the uncommon practices common. These steps include regularly closing garage doors, or a willingness to use a bear-resistant trash can, which can seem as people-resistant as they are bear-resistant at times. But it will be well worth our efforts.
Already this summer, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has captured and moved two subadult bears away from Big Sky. One has since returned, as a bear’s homing mechanism is strong, and this young trash-conditioned bear was captured and moved again. The other youngster ended up finding a campground in the Paradise Valley and was so bold that relocation was no longer an option and it was lethally removed. A third young bear is walking into garages, stealing food on decks and clawing at garage doors. As of this writing on July 11, there is a current attempt to capture this bear.
Together, we can change the fate of bears. Join the majority of Big Sky homes by saying “boo to blue” and request a grey bear-resistant trash can from L&L Site Services or a black bear-resistant trash can from Republic Services.
Go to @bearsmartbigsky to share your story on social media and learn how to do your part to be bear smart and make Big Sky’s story a positive one for bears, people and wild places.
Kris Inman is the community partnerships coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society and oversees the Bear Smart Big Sky campaign.