Outdoors

With Bears and Lions on the Move, Wildlife Managers Urge Awareness

Annual management reports for grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lions detail conflict prevention, education efforts in Northwest Montana

Wildlife managers with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) have published three new annual reports detailing management work and conflict responses in 2018 related to the region’s grizzly bear, black bear and mountain lion populations, as well as forecasting management plans for the upcoming year.

The goal of the reports is to minimize conflicts between people and carnivores like bears and lions, and they conclude that education efforts and conflict prevention are proving effective, even as the volume of calls surrounding bear conflicts, specifically involving unsecured food, garbage and other attractants, continues to swell.

Still, residents are getting the message, and FWP technicians are making headway installing electric fencing and convincing property owners to properly store and secure pet food, livestock feed and other food attractants like domestic fruit trees.

Tim Manley, a wildlife management specialist with FWP in Region 1, prepared the 2018 Grizzly Bear Management Progress Report for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) portion of Region 1 with Justine Vallieres, an FWP seasonal technician.

Last year, according to the report, FWP received more than 150 calls related to grizzly bears in and around the NCDE. Of those, most were classified as bear conflicts. Most reported conflicts involved unsecured food attractants, such as garbage, chest freezers left outside, pet food left outside, bird feeders, chicken feed and fruit trees.

“The best way to minimize conflicts between people and grizzly bears is to prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place,” Manley stated in his report.

Prevention can include a wide range of options, including installing and maintaining an effective electric fence, using approved bear-resistant garbage containers, educational events and increasing human tolerance.

FWP personnel regularly work with landowners to address issues. A successful effort has involved FWP working with residents to protect chickens, pigs, and fruit trees with electric fencing.

“We had many reports of grizzly bears feeding on domestic fruit. These reports were primarily from the Flathead Valley and included apples, plums and pears,” according to Manley’s report. “In some situations, we were able to install temporary electric fences to prevent the bears from accessing the fruit and causing damage to the trees.”

In 2018, Manley and Vallieres helped install 18 temporary and permanent electric fences. An additional 13 electric fence energizers and net fences were loaned to landowners. Manley, as well as other FWP staff, also presented at several educational and outreach events throughout the year promoting bear awareness and safety.

Last year there were 23 captures of 20 individual grizzly bears in the NCDE portion of Region 1. All but one of the captures occurred on private land. Four of those bears were euthanized. Bears that are moved are taken to an approved site with permission from the landowner or land management agency. The decision to capture or remove grizzly bears for management reasons is not made without careful consideration.

Erik Wenum, FWP bear and lion specialist based in the Flathead Valley, prepared the 2018 Northwest Montana Black Bear and Lion Conflict Management Report with Chad White, an FWP seasonal technician.

Last year there were 975 calls related to black bears in the greater Flathead Valley, which is slightly above the 10-year average of 813. The number of on-site visits — 95 — was below the 10-year average of 172. The number of captures — 22 — was below the 10-year average of 35.

In Northwest Montana, many areas with the highest densities of lions are also areas with expanding human population, Wenum said. This is related to the concentration of deer and elk in their winter and summer ranges at the edges of the valley. Wenum attributed the effectiveness of the outreach and education programs to an overall decrease in the number of lion conflicts.

Kim Annis, FWP’s wildlife management specialist based in Libby, prepared the 2018 Grizzly and Black Bear Management Report for the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem (CYE).

Last year, Annis received 109 bear-related calls. Of those, 47 were confirmed human-bear conflicts (both species), which is down from recent years. No bears were captured, relocated, or euthanized due to confirmed conflicts in 2018 in the CYE.

Unsecured garbage continues to be the primary cause of human-bear conflicts, Annis said. Domestic fruit trees and small livestock were a close second.

Temporary electric fencing was used at 20 locations as the primary tool to resolve conflicts in 2018 in the CYE. Annis helped an additional three residents with permanent electric fences to secure small livestock. Of the 180 electric fences set since 2009 in the CYE, only two have proven ineffective at eliminating a conflict with a bear, according to Annis. One, in 2017, was due to a flaw in the initial design of the fence. The other, in 2015, involved black bear cubs of the year willing to take a full jolt from a well-designed electric fence to access a fruit orchard.

Annis continues to work with Lincoln and Sanders counties to secure the public waste transfer sites and make them bear-resistant. Since 2017, a combination of chain link fence and electrified wires were installed to secure several sites, and these measures have proven 100 percent effective at preventing bears from accessing garbage. She also regularly participates in community outreach and educational events to promote bear awareness and safety.

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.