Bears Emerging from Dens Across Flathead Valley

Residents are encouraged to secure food attractants as bears descend into lower valleys

By Tristan Scott

With the arrival of spring, bears are emerging from their mountain dens and descending into the lower valleys in search of food, and one young bruin has already pried its way into a Whitefish home to snack on leftover Easter candy.

As local black bears and grizzlies begin to stir in the Flathead Valley, wildlife managers are receiving an uptick in reports of bear sightings and conflicts, prompting wardens to issue a stern reminder to residents who forget to lock up pet food, bird seed, trash, and other food attractants.

“It is entirely avoidable if we start at the beginning of the season and make a conscious effort to secure these food attractants,” Erik Wenum, bear and lion specialist with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said. “Bears don’t just go from wandering around in the woods doing bear things to going into homes. It’s a taught learning curve.”

Last week, a homeowner in the Haskill Basin area in Whitefish reported that a small black bear entered the kitchen through a pet door and consumed candy left over from the Easter holiday. The break-in occurred a day after the bear reached through the pet door to access cat food, having been drawn to the back yard due to the presence of birdseed.

The bear has not yet been caught, though Wenum said a trap was set.

Wenum said bears gain confidence with each incremental learning experience in which they receive a positive food reward, and urged residents to take steps to avoid conflicts by reducing attractants.

Wildlife managers recommend bear-resistant bins in communities and on ranches; electric fence systems to protect chicken coops, bee yards and sheep bedding grounds; and random redistribution of livestock carcasses each spring.

Domestic chickens have been a particularly serious problem the past few years, according to wildlife managers.

After a spate of unseasonably warm weather, grizzly and black bears are roaming the Flathead Valley in greater abundance as they scour the valley floor for green, succulent vegetation to jumpstart their digestive tract.

If they encounter birdseed – an ideal source of fat and protein – in a residential backyard, they’ll become increasingly adventuresome and comfortable around homes, Wenum said.

“Bears don’t just go from zero to breaking into houses,” he said.

FWP’s Be Bear Aware website (http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/livingWithWildlife/beBearAware/) provides homeowners and landowners with information about preventing bear conflicts.

Visit the site for tips and tools on obtaining and using bear spray, safe camping and hiking, access to bear resistant produce and a guide to the many food-related and other items that attract bears to a property.

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