RED LODGE — Be bear aware: it’s a phrase many Montanans have heard time and time again. But on Saturday at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, it was the bear’s awareness being tested to show the public how intelligent the animals truly are.
“This is one of the most important events that we do because bear safety is very relevant in this area. We live in bear country, and in our town especially. There are black bears that come into town, there are grizzlies that come into town. So we like to do this every year for the community, to give them a chance to learn what not to do, what to do about bears," said Eden Wondra, the education manager at the sanctuary, on Saturday. "How to be safe around bears, how to protect their food from bears, what to do if they’re camping this summer. We are helping people stay safe, and also keeping our bears safe."
It’s now officially bear season and Montana is known bear country, meaning residents need to always be aware when exploring the wilderness.
"Definitely always carry a bear spray with you. They work 90% of the time and they also work on other dangerous wildlife as well. You can use them with moose and mountain lions, so there’s no harm in having one. It doesn’t have negative, long-term effects on the animal. It just teaches them to be afraid of people and stay away from us, so that’s just a really easy way to use it,” Wondra said. “The second thing is, avoid at all costs bears getting food. When you are camping or backpacking, we have a couple of bear-safe ways to store your food. Even if you’re hiking. The most important thing we want is to avoid bears eating any human food because they learn so quickly. They can learn from one time."
A campsite was set up inside of the bear enclosure at the sanctuary, located at 615 Second St. E. in Red Lodge, to give the public an idea of how crafty these animals can be. Viewers traveled from all over to witness the demonstration. Bear spray training also took place.
“I thought it would be fun for the kids to come out and just a family event for us to do. I thought it would be so fun, and it has been. And very educational. They live out in the country so we’re out in the backwoods all the time," said Kym Preslar, a Billings resident referring to her sister's family, on Saturday. "So you know, we have to be aware of bears and other animals. We thought it would be a good teaching lesson for us and the kids."
And it turns out her nephews have had some experience with bear spray in the past.
“Considering this one sprayed himself with bear spray at one time, yeah we’re here for his educational bear spray training too,” Preslar said referring to her nephew, Charles Hammond of Big Timber.
Charles and his siblings, Reagan and Harrison, were excited to be in attendance with their mom, Debi, their Aunt Kym, and Grandma Alycia Roberts.
“We want to make our children bear-aware," Debi said on Saturday. "Teach them how to properly spray, not themselves."
Something on many people’s minds following the recent closure of Greenough Lake just south of Red Lodge after a grizzly bear sighting. Memorial Day weekend is also a popular time for camping trips, so it's crucial to be aware in the outdoors.
And if you do run into a bear, Wondra has a few tips.
“You can yell things like, ‘Hey bear! Stay away bear!' Put your arms up high, and they’ll usually just go away. They don’t want to mess with that,” Wondra said. “If you’d like to learn more about this, on our YouTube channel we actually do have a video about bear safety so you can review these tips. It’s great for kids to see and learn about this kind of stuff as they’re growing up here."
To view the bear safety video, click here.
To learn more about the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, click here.