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Bear proofing tips before hibernation

| September 5, 2007 12:00 AM

Fall is quickly approaching and the black and grizzly bears are building up their fat reserves before winter hibernation. While they are a carnivorous species (meaning they eat meat) their diet is mostly omnivorous (meaning they will eat plants, insects as well as animals) and spend most of their waking hours searching for food. Berries, insects, grasses, forbs and other types of vegetation make up most of both grizzly and black bear diets, but they are very adaptable and will eat carrion, small rodents and even human garbage and food if it is easily available. Since bears are very skilled at finding food, are not picky eaters and have excellent memories, it is important that people who live in bear country avoid unintentionally attracting bears to their residences. A bear that learns to associate food with people may become dangerous and may eventually have to be killed. Reporting bear activity or a bear problem when it first happens is critical. The earlier a problem is reported the easier it is to solve. To decrease the risk of conflicts with bears, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommends that residents follow these few simple precautions. People Food: Do not leave food outside unattended, especially at night. Do not store refrigerators or freezers outside or leave food in vehicles. Barbecue grills, smokers, ice chests and other outdoor items should be properly secured in a building when not in use. They should be washed and cleaned after each use to reduce odor attractants.

Fruit Trees: Pick all fruit from trees as they become ripe and the ground as soon as possible. Do not leave fruit on trees through the fall or to rot on the ground. Electric fencing is the most effective way to keep bears out of fruit trees. Information on effective electric fencing is available from the Libby Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Trash: Garbage cans should be stored where bears can neither smell nor gain access to it inside a secure building. Put out the garbage only on the day of pick up. Bear resistant garbage bins are available for loan from the Libby Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks office.Compost Piles: Compost piles are not recommended in areas where bears live. If composting, it should be limited to grass, leaves, and garden clippings, and they should be turned into piles. Adding lime can reduce smells and help decomposition. Do not add food scraps. Food scraps can be composted indoors in a worm box with minimum odor and the finished compost can later be added to garden soil. Bear resistent composters are available as well.Vegetable and Flower Gardens: Gardens should be harvested immediately as vegetables, herbs, and flowers mature. Locate gardens away from forests and shrubs that bears may use for cover. Do not use blood meal. A well constructed electric fence is an effective deterrent.

Birdfeeders: Bears will typically destroy bird feeders when they find them. If bears are known to be in your area please take all birdfeeders down immediately, or stop feeding the birds until winter arrives. It is best not to feed birds while bears are out (March - November). If birds must be fed, hang feeders as high as possible (at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from any tree or pole), but be aware that black bears are excellent climbers. Or bring feeders in at night, but bears may also be attracted to seed and hulls left on the ground under feeders, even if the feeders are removed or empty.

Pet Food: if pets are allowed in the house, feed them in the house. If they are outside pets, feed only the amount of food the animal will eat in a single feeding. Pet food should be stored. Clean up any spilled or leftover food immediately and bring bowls in at night. Livestock and Poultry Feed: Livestock feed should be stored in secure buildings or bear-resistant containers (55 gallon metal drums with locking lids work well) and leftover feed should not be left out overnight. Pens should be at least 50 yards from wooded areas, or other areas that may provide cover for bears and should be electrified.Livestock and Poultry: While most large livestock (horses, adult cattle and llamas) are relatively safe, sheep, pigs, and poultry are more vulnerable. Be sure to keep all feeds secured, clean up afterbirth and remove dead animals quickly. Electric fencing is very effective in keeping bears out of corrals, pens and coups if properly constructed.Wild Game Meat: Butcher all game meat as soon as possible. If hanging the meat, do so in a secure building, garage or shed, or at least 10 feet high and 4 feet out from any tree or pole. Do not leave scraps, hide or head around for a bear to find.If there is a bear frequenting an area make sure all attractants are secure. To frighten bears away try banging pots and pans, blowing an air horn, and yelling at the bear. Do not shoot into the air to scare the bear (for what goes up must come down); a bullet may hit something else, or the bear, accidentally. Gun shots only last a few seconds but you can bang and yell for several minutes.

If bears have already found garbage, bird feeders, pet food, etc, remove the attractant immediately. Bears will usually leave on their own if no attractants or "food rewards" are available to them. Most bear problems can be prevented by eliminating their access to garbage and other human-food related items. Share this information with friends and neighbors; when a whole neighborhood or community works together to secure the things that attract bears, conflicts between humans and bears is reduced dramatically.Remember…a fed bear is a dead bear.For details on bear proofing a home or neighborhood, to report bear activity or conflicts, or for information on bear proof electric fencing and bear resistent garbage containers, please contact the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear manager, Kim Annis, located at the Libby field office, at 406-293-4161, extention 107.