Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is aiming to raise awareness of rising bear encounters in the Red Lodge area at a public meeting on Saturday.
The meeting is in response to a second straight year where bear conflicts have significantly increased in south-central Montana.
Perhaps the most well-known incident in the past two years was in August 2022, when Red Lodge resident Mike Pilati used a stick to open his vehicle when a bear was trapped inside.
"My wife said, 'I think a bear is inside our car,'" Pilait recalled Wednesday afternoon. "And I said 'No way.' It was a sight I'd never seen, and a sight I don't want to see again."
When Pilati finally freed the bear from the vehicle the next morning, the inside was trashed. On Wednesday, he said they never got the car fixed but have since bought a new one.
"It had chomped and ate the car completely," Pilati said. "It was destroyed."
Pilati's incident isn't the only recent bear break-in. Mark Charlton had his work van broken into by a bear in Red Lodge back in July. Both are examples of a growing trend.
FWP spokesperson Chrissy Webb said that in 2023 there were over 100 bear conflicts in south-central Montana, with nearly 75 percent happening in Carbon County.
"Close to three-quarters of those conflicts took place in Carbon County," Webb said Wednesday morning. "That's why we're really targeting that area."
In order to do so, FWP will be holding a meeting at the Red Lodge Senior and Community Center at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Webb said the department will be giving away free bear spray for all in attendance. The focus of the meeting won't be on recreational interaction with bears but on better ways to protect homes, she said.
"The two biggest points where we are seeing a lot of conflict was improperly stored garbage," Webb said. "Another point of conflict we were seeing was small livestock."
Pilati, a lifelong Red Lodge resident, said the increase in bear activity has been apparent.
"It was never this way when I was growing up here," Pilati said. "You'd see a bear every once in a while but you see them all the time now."
Webb said a big reason that activity has increased is because bear populations have increased and their territory has expanded. She also said that part of the issue is due to the weather staying warmer than usual this time of year.
The department's primary goal is to help bears and humans coexist.
"Bears are an important part of us living in the state of Montana," Webb said. "We have both species of bears, but we want to make sure we keep our bears wild and we also want to keep the public safe."
Pilati said it's a safety precaution that makes sense, especially speaking from his own experience.
"People usually cause half the problem with bears, you know so it's good to educate the people," Pilati said.