Grizzly bears, © Todd Mintz

Bears and People – Walking the Coexistence Tightrope

It is that time of year when the winds whip the fall leaves, the first snow falls in the mountains and bears eagerly look for food. For bears, this period is called hyperphagia, and these fall months are the bear’s last chance to put on some fat (sometimes gaining as much as 3 pounds a day) before snuggling in to hibernate for the next four to six months. If the females do not have enough body fat at the start of their hibernation, they will not give birth to cubs during the winter. This need for food drives bears to search high and low for any available food. And, unfortunately, that means that this time of year is the busiest for conflicts between bears and people.

Grizzly bear, © Bob Muth

A grizzly bear roams into an apple orchard.

From apple trees to garbage to backyard chickens, bears find it all. By using their incredible sense of smell, bears can wind up tracking down food to places they shouldn’t be – like backyards, orchards and porches. This spells trouble for both bears and people, which is why Defenders works hard to prevent potential conflicts from occurring by keeping bears away from these temping treats! To do this, we use tools like bear-resistant garbage containers and bear-resistant electric fences to keep property protected and deter bears from getting into trouble. In 2014, Defenders has worked with landowners through our electric fence incentive program to complete 42 electric fence projects (with another 20 projects close to being completed), throughout our project area in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Since 2010, this program has helped landowners put fencing around more than100 sites – everything from fruit trees to chicken coops. Each year, we get more and more positive testimony from landowners that have had fences installed and as this program grows in popularity, we plan to do more projects each year.

In addition to our successful fencing program, we routinely work with state, federal and tribal agencies and local communities to implement bear-resistant garbage programs. Bears are highly attracted to garbage. Once they find the garbage, they become hooked on this easy source of food and come back repeatedly — staying in neighborhoods and causing concern for residents. Bears living in urban/wildland fringe habitat are more at risk of becoming food conditioned and as a result may be killed. Either wildlife agencies remove the bear because it has become a safety concern, or bears are hit by cars as they move through these urban areas. This summer, Defenders worked with a group of partners to purchase 50 bear-resistant trash cans for placement at local residences in a busy recreational community in northwest Montana. This area is frequented by both black bears and grizzly bears, so this effort will create a safer environment for both bears and people.

Electric fencing, © Defenders of Wildlife

Electric fencing around attractants like beehives can keep everyone safe – including bears.

Another large part of our bear coexistence program is working one-on-one with landowners and residents. We discuss any conflicts that have occurred and then work with them on ways to address their concerns while also keeping grizzly bears alive. Grizzly bears need large blocks of habitat in order to raise their young and gather food. The fact is, between those large blocks of land are a growing number of people and human development. Finding ways for people and grizzly bears to live on the same landscape is a reality we face. Without human tolerance for grizzly bears, their future would look very grim indeed. The future looks brighter for grizzly bears when conflicts are minimized and tolerance outweighs myth and misunderstanding. In all honesty, the best way to truly “save” grizzly bears is by finding and implementing tools and techniques that help people coexist safely with grizzly bears on the landscape. Wildlife coexistence is a win-win for both property owners and wildlife: owners protect their property using sustainable nonlethal tools, and we keep these imperiled bears alive. Defenders is dedicated to working with landowners to ensure that grizzly bears are here to stay, grow and recover.

Erin Edge is the Rockies & Plains Representative at Defenders of Wildlife

5 Responses to “Bears and People – Walking the Coexistence Tightrope”

  1. kim b

    So HAPPY defenders is helping to save the bears & people !! Usually when theres confilct the animals lose…. Thats why i support dendersof wildlife. Keep up the good work.

  2. Regula

    Humans have to learn to share with wild life – there isn’t any other way, the planet earth belongs to both, man and beast. Maybe it isn’t such a catastrophe if a bear empties an apple orchard. Maybe some of the apples could be made available to the bears. Small animals which grizzly bears may eat could be cultivated and released into the landscape where bears are, which will save them a trip to the city.

    In the Mekong delta the dolphin help the fishermen fish and in return they share their catch with the dolphins. Why can’t US farmers be as friendly? Bears keep other animals away, so they also do a favor besides being beautiful to look at. In return we, the humans could also do them a food favor. It doesn’t have to be the local garbage can, but some genuine prey. As habitat shrinks, prey is less than sufficient – hence prey has to be increased. Most wild animals prefer to eat their natural food rather than raiding trash cans. But when food is scarce – what choice do they have?

  3. Faisal

    the threat of woelvs is way over hyped and numbers are not even in the harvestable range yet they want to allow hunting woelvs from a helicopter? go figure..If the numbers were in the harvestable range thats not acceptable to me, hunt them on the ground in an ethicle manner.

  4. kim b

    I dont think wolves should be hunted at all !!!! Why do people think these beautiful creatures should be murderd at will ? They only kill to survive , unlike man. Who kills indescrimitly and for pleasure ….. I just dont get it…. I guess i didnt inherit the killing gene, only the rescuing and the loving of all animals !!!!!! Shame on idaho,wash, and the other wolf killing states . iv’e always wanted to visit but as long as you keep killing wolves my tourist $$$$ will never b spent there !!! Hope others BOYCOTT as well…..

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