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Libby City Council urged to take action on encroaching grizzly bears

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | November 9, 2021 7:00 AM

Taylor Loop resident Martin Dunbar urged Libby City Council to alert the public about a sloth of grizzly bears in the area and develop a plan to deal with the animals in the future.

“I think you guys need to figure out a way of letting people know that these bears are around,” Dunbar said at a Nov. 1 meeting.

“They’re not in the city yet,” he added.

Dunbar’s game camera caught a female grizzly and two cubs inspecting a tree in his yard last month. He told city councilors that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel set up traps the next day and caught a male grizzly soon after.

The state agency announced the capture of the bear on Oct. 28 in a subsequent press release. Experts concluded that the grizzly sought “human-related attractants” in the Parmenter Creek Road area. They relocated the animal to the southern Cabinet Mountains and set more traps.

In an interview last week with The Western News, Dunbar said bears were a regular sight in the area. But they generally pass through quickly. These bears had lingered for several weeks, he said while raising concerns regarding the safety of area children.

Libby Police Chief Scott Kessel, also in attendance at the Nov. 1 meeting, pointed out that the bears were loitering about a quarter mile from the city elementary school. He also highlighted the difference in behavior between black bears and grizzlies.

“We don’t generally worry about black bears in the city limits — they’ll move through, knock over trash,” he said. “Grizzlies, as you know, have a whole different outlook on life.”

The city’s police department was prepared handle a grizzly incursion, Kessel said.

“We’ll take whatever action is appropriate,” he told city councilors. “If we can haze the bear off, we’ll do that. If it’s an immediate threat to public safety, we’ll take the bear out.”

As bears prepare for winter, they become more active, searching out food ahead of the colder temperatures. FWP officials recommend residents secure attractants, including garbage, pet or livestock food, fruit trees, compost, beehives and outdoor cookers, to discourage a furry interlocutor. They suggest using a secure, four-sided structure with a roof and door to house possible attractants.

If a bear is sampling local attractants, FWP officials ask that Lincoln County residents contact the agency at (406) 291-1320.

In case of a close encounter — although experts stress that residents should steer clear of the animal if possible — officials recommend bear spray as a deterrent. Other options include generating loud noises, like banging pots and pans, setting off a car alarm or shouting. Officials recommend against shooting a bear, warning that it could lead to a public safety hazard and potentially just injure the bear, leaving it unable to find food naturally.

Letting bears become accustomed to living off of human largesse can lead to them giving up natural foraging. Worse, they can become habituated to people, leading to increased safety risks. Ultimately, these animals face euthanasia.

After warning city councilors of the bears meandering around his neighborhood, Dunbar encouraged them to develop a plan for handling the animals when they reemerge in the spring. He urged them against waiting until the warmer weather to come up with contingencies.

“I think you need to make a plan — now — to deal with them in the spring,” he said.

Libby officials approved the city’s deer management plan earlier this year, the first part of an effort to codify the municipality’s approach to encroaching wildlife. In 2019, city councilors created a wildlife committee to spearhead the effort. At the time, the emphasis was on deer and wild turkeys, though officials have since indicated the local rabbit population also might need addressing.