By Andi Bourne

Bears Into Trouble - Public Reminded to Secure Attractants


October 5, 2017

Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

A black bear helping its self to an unsecured trash can.

SEELEY LAKE – Bears had free reign in Seeley Lake during the evacuations. Now that everyone is back in their home, there is no excuse not to properly secure attractants keeping bears and residents safe. This is also true for residents in the Union Creek area near Potomac where bears are frequenting several garabage cans placed for pick up.

During the fire evacuations Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 2 Bear Manager Jamie Jonkel said quite a few different black bears and at least one grizzly started eating garbage. Game Warden Bill Koppen dealt with multiple black bear conflicts and has trapped and relocated a handful of bears. The Grizzly has been getting into garbage north of town in the Elaine's Way and Camp Creek area.

Jonkel said no one expected evacuations during the Rice Ridge Fire to last as long as they did.

"A lot of folks were up-rooted and the last thing they thought about was emptying the garbage," said Jonkel. "There was a time period where the bears had a free-for-all."

Jonkel said for those that didn't leave, there was no garbage service so garbage accumulated.

While Jonkel said the evacuations started the problems, residents in Seeley Lake are perpetuating the problem by not removing attractants and properly taking care of their trash.

"First people think it's cute when a bear shows up. Then they get a little angry when it scatters garbage further and a little further and more often. Next thing you know, you have a bear that is hitting neighbors," said Jonkel.

Around Potomac at the junction of the Camas and Hole in the Wall Roads, multiple bears are working the 12-14 garbage cans that are left at the junction during the week. Trash is being placed in the cans all week long and the bears are making a mess.


Jonkel said the best way to solve the issue would be to leave the cans empty until the morning. Since that does not seem to be working, they are exploring other options to mitigate the problem.

Jonkel said that FWP tries to cut the bear some slack but once it starts an affinity to trash, the behavior escalates.

"We manage the bears but we need to start looking at the people too," said Jonkel. "We are in Montana and it is still wild as hell here."

Jonkel said that he hasn't had any reports of bears that were injured or killed in the Seeley Lake area. But Jonkel said the drought conditions are typically harder on bears than the fire itself. The drought pushes them into moister areas, which are often where there are also people and attractants. This is a typical fall pattern where bears come into the valleys looking for an easy meal.

A bear's sense of smell is 20 times that of a bloodhound and they can roam up to 100 miles. Residents need to secure attractants or they can be cited for feeding wildlife:

• Attractants include any food items, beverages including GatoradeTM bottles, soda, beer cans, livestock feed, fruit trees and bird feeders.

• Use bear proof garbage cans. A rock or bungee cord on top of a garbage can is not bear proof and can easily be gotten into.

• Put non-bear proof cans in a cage that is locked with a chain or secure in a shed or trailer.

• Double bagging exceptionally odorous trash will help reduce the smell.

• A fence or rickety shed will not keep bears out.

• An electric fence around garbage or livestock will keep bears out.

• Secure livestock feed, pet food, suet and bird feeders.

• Make sure freezers and refrigerators on porches are chained shut with a heavy chain and locked. Coolers should be kept inside.

• Do not leave doors open to a home or garage. Bears will come searching for food.

• Do not leave food in a vehicle, especially with the windows cracked. A bear can easily break in.

• If using a trash pickup service, bring cans out as close to the pick-up time as possible. Do not leave non-bear proof cans out overnight.

• Grills can also be attractants although not too much of a problem in this area.

• Compost sites have not been an issue in the area but if they contain food scraps it should be contained with an electric fence.

Jonkel highlighted the Defenders for Wildlife electric fence incentive program. Landowners can recover 50 percent of the cost of bear-resistant electric fencing, up to $500. The incentive is both a technical and financial assistance program.

"When you think of all the behavioral traps out there it is amazing we don't have more problems," said Jonkel. "An electric fence is a great deterrent."

Call 1-800-TIP-MONT (847-6668) to report someone feeding the wildlife, leaving garbage out or see a bear getting into trouble. Callers can remain anonymous.


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