MISSOULA - Whitefish is one of several Montana communities that are working to become a "Bear Smart" community.
Bear experts will tell you there’s no such thing as a bad bear — those that get into trouble with garbage or chicken coops or get stuck in trees. Many bears are euthanized if they become too habituated to the food sources that we leave out.
Now with a family of grizzlies in Missoula’s North Hills, a group made of community members is ready to make us "Bear Smart." After all, it’s not really a bear problem, it’s a human problem.
“There is an impetus to do this among many communities because they’re tired of seeing bears hauled off and killed because people are not doing the right thing with their attractants,” explained Dr. Chris Servheen who is co-chair of the North American Bear Expert Team.
He is also one of a dozen members of the Bear Smart Missoula team who believe it’s time to get more aggressive in how we safely live with bears.
“What we have now is a revolving door where bears come, and they get into trouble, and they are either moved or they are destroyed. And then people think the problem is solved because the bear is gone. But the problem is not solved. The moving of the bears and the killing of the bears is just treating the symptom, it’s not treating the problem.” - Dr. Chris Servheen
Bears have good memories and if they find a food source in one neighborhood, they’ll return again and again; that’s just what bears do.
“We'd like to get ahead of that and teach people how to keep bear attractants away from bears; compost, garbage, that kind of thing, so the bears don’t get into trouble. So we don’t have to catch them and remove them or kill them,” Servheen told MTN News.
Tired of all the dead bears, the Bear Smart Missoula Team is a locally driven effort with members from the Great Bear Foundation, the City of Missoula, the Missoula City-County Health Department, Republic Services, and others.
Chris Servheen on Missoula becoming a "Bear Smart" community:
The program is modeled after another one that works up north.
"The Bear Smart idea was developed in British Columbia because they had the same problems we had,” Servheen noted. “And they developed this program to get people to be partners in the program to keep attractants away from bears.”
The entire city of Missoula is considered to be bear habitat for both grizzlies and black bears and the team has a six-point plan to apply the Bear Smart community concept.
- Prepare a bear hazard assessment. Review the history and pattern of bear conflicts in the community and identify high-use bear habitat, human-use areas, and non-natural attractants such as accessible garbage, fruit trees, bird feeders, compost, etc.
- Prepare a bear/human conflict management plan. Develop strategies to resolve the hazards identified in the Hazard Assessment and reduce the potential for human-bear conflicts.
- Revise planning and decision-making documents. Ensure the community’s commitment to the Bear Smart Community Program by incorporating Bear Smart practices into official community documents such as Solid Waste Management Plans.
- Implement a continuing education program. Education is a key component of human-bear conflict resolution, and the community must have an ongoing education program that is directed at all sectors of the community and consistent to reduce the availability of attractants to bears.
- Develop and maintain a bear-proof waste management system. Ensure that all components of municipal waste management including waste, recycling and composting are managed appropriately and made inaccessible to bears. This may be done through involvement and cooperation by all community members, proactive efforts by the waste management company, bylaws, and the use of bear-resistant containers and/or electric fencing.
- Implement Bear Smart policies and regulations. Implement “Bear Smart” regulations and programs to limit the availability of human foods to bears because of intent, neglect, or irresponsible management of attractants. Implement a compliance strategy for these regulations to ensure that there is full compliance with them.
“We have to exert a little effort -- and by we, I mean me, too. I have to do it soon. We all have to exert a little effort to keep these attractions away from bears. And the Bear Smart Missoula Team wants to work with the residents of Missoula to teach people how to do that,” Servheen explained. “To get the appropriate methods in place, bear-proof dumpsters and that kind of thing and allow people to be more skilled at keeping attractants away from bears so we don’t end up killing bears.
The Bear Smart Missoula Team
- James Jonkel and Eli Hampson - Bear Management Team, MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks
- Erin Edge - Defenders of Wildlife
- Chris Servheen - North American Bears Expert Team and Montana Wildlife Foundation
- Chad Bauer - Republic Services
- Elissa Chott - Great Bear Foundation
- Nancy Heil - Rattlesnake Creek Watershed Group
- Beth Judy - Rattlesnake Creek Watershed Group
- Issac and Raechel Kantor - Pattee Creek Landowners Association
- Heather Leach - Great Bear Foundation
- Bert Lindler - North Hills elk, bear, and weed volunteer
- Ginny Merriam - Communications Director, City of Missoula
- Shannon Therriault - Environmental Health Director, Missoula City-County Health Department
- Radley Watkins - Resource Conservationist, Missoula Conservation District
- Kali Becher - Open Lands manager, Missoula County Community and Planning Services