Take steps to reduce human-wildlife conflicts

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Grizzly Mini Storage. Grizzly Security. Grizzly Den. Grizzly Interiors. Grizzly Bail Bonds.

Even Grizzly Spine Pain & Rehab.

Regional businesses all.

The late Charles Jonkel, a biologist famous for his deep knowledge of bears and his respect and affinity for the animals, used to say that commercial enterprises use the word “grizzly” in their names because of recognition of the bruins’ power, fortitude and competence.

Today, the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem is home to an estimated 1,000 grizzly bears. The region provides welcoming habitat also for black bears and mountain lions.

Yet that habitat shrinks when new subdivisions and other human development intrude.

The result is a setup for conflicts between humans, bears and mountain lions.

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently published annual reports of conflicts in 2018 between humans and grizzlies and humans and black bears and mountain lions.

Reports of conflicts increased in 2018.

The “Black Bear & Mountain Lion Conflict Management” report, co-written by Chad White and Erik Wenum of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, noted: “Northwest Montana is prime bear and lion habitat, with the highest population densities in the state ... Currently, some of the areas with the highest bear and lion densities are also areas with the highest human densities.”

They add, “Based on the growing population of people in the Flathead Valley, it is reasonable to expect that the trend of [wildlife conflict] calls will increase to higher levels, especially during years of poor natural food production.”

So, what can be done?

Fish, Wildlife and Parks is doing what it can — working one-on-one with residents to secure garbage, livestock feed, chickens and the like; offering education about how best to live and recreate in wildlife country; emphasizing that people should be “bear aware.”

Yet many people still have either not gotten the word or have chosen to ignore it. “Unsecured garbage continues to be the primary cause of human-bear conflicts,” reported Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

And many people venture into grizzly bear habitat without pepper spray, a decision that is both reckless and irresponsible.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said that investigations by its law enforcement agents of human-bear encounters since 1992 found that “persons defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50 percent of the time. During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries.”

As we continue to intrude into wildlife habitat, doing so in part because we want to observe wildlife, we have an obligation to share this territory responsibly — to secure our garbage; to use electric fencing to protect domestic poultry; to do whatever we can to reduce the chance of conflicts that sometimes have fatal consequences for people, bears and mountain lions.

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