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This Week in Fish and Wildlife: As bears prep for winter, be especially 'bear aware' to avoid conflicts

As bears get ready for winter during a period known as hyperphagia, they're more focused on food and less on their surroundings. That's why Montana wildlife experts say to be especially "bear aware."
Posted at 4:13 PM, Sep 04, 2023

None of us want to think about it just yet, but winter is coming. For bears that means it's time to eat—a lot before heading to their dens for the long winter. This week in Fish and Wildlife, MTN's Chet Layman takes a look at this period known as hyperphagia and at what we can do to avoid a conflict during this time of hunger.

BOZEMAN — Getting ready for winter for bears is really nothing more than a complete focus on food. That means they are paying less attention to their surroundings and more attention to eating. That means we need to be more aware.

“So this is when bears are more active on the landscape, active for more hours of the day. They're moving and traveling farther and they can be less aware of their surroundings because they are so focused on what's right in front of them while they are eating,” said Morgan Jacobsen, information and education program manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 3.

Archery and upland game bird season began this past weekend, and hunting requires going against almost every rule of safety in bear country. That means hunters need to be extra aware of how to avoid a potential conflict.

“A lot of what hunters do is, creates elevated risk with bear conflicts. They're moving against the wind, they're traveling during the early and late hours of the day, and you know they are wearing cover scents, things like that, and they're making less noise,” said Jacobsen. “So take that into consideration when you're hunting. Do what you can to make localized noise and to limit your movements during the early periods of the day and during late in the evening. As always, carry bear spray, know how to use it, travel in groups and follow food storage orders and if you do harvest an animal, make sure you get it out of the field as quickly as possible.”
For those of us who live near the wilderness interface, paying attention to this time of year can go a long way to protecting yourself, your property, and Montana's bears.

“It’s a very simple thing but it goes a long way towards keeping your community safer, keeping your property safer, fostering healthy behavior in bears so that they're encouraged to find food in natural areas and in natural ways, and really just avoid conflict in situations where we have to euthanize bears and situations where people and their property are put at risk,” Jacobsen said.

Bears will be in this stage now until they head to their dens for winter.

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