With bears waking from their long winter’s nap, wildlife officials are reminding people, especially those who live in bear country, to follow a few basic guidelines to keep bears and people safe.
“Over the winter, when you suspect that the bears are sleeping, sometimes we get a little bit complacent,” said James Brower, Idaho Fish and Game regional communications manager. “We like to send out a reminder for people to be vigilant.”
Last year, eastern Idaho had its share of people-bear conflicts that required intervention from authorities.
“We responded to a total of 75 human-bear conflicts in the region that required some type of response,” said Jeremy Nicholson, Fish and Game’s bear biologist in eastern Idaho. “Thirty-five were grizzly bear conflicts, 37 black bears, and three unknown.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the likelihood of bear encounters can be reduced with a few common guidelines:
• Never approach bears, always remain at least 100 yards away, or about the length of a football field
• Practice ethical wildlife viewing by remaining a safe distance and never disturbing natural behaviors
• Never feed, leave food for, or make food accessible to bears
• Store food, garbage, barbecue grills, and other attractants in locked hard-sided vehicles or bear-resistant storage boxes
• Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and make sure it is accessible
• Hike or ski in groups of three or more, stay on maintained trails and make noise
• Avoid hiking at dusk, dawn, or at night
• Do not run if you encounter a bear
• Instead of traditional bird feeders, set up birdhouses or birdbaths, plant native flowers, or set up hanging flower baskets for hummingbirds
• Keep chickens and other small livestock properly secured using electric fencing or keep them inside a closed shed with a door
• Report bear sightings, encounters, and conflicts immediately to your state or tribal wildlife management agency
“The No. 1 thing that we deal with throughout the year as far as conflicts go and attracting bears where they shouldn’t be is people that are improperly storing attractants,” Brower said. “If it smells to you, it definitely smells to a bear and probably smells good.”
Brower said most longtime residents in bear country are familiar with the drill, but areas such as Island Park has a constant influx of new residents or short-term rentals and newcomers who often need to be educated.
“We do hire an education technician every year who focuses on bear education,” he said. “He talks to neighborhoods and gives presentations on how to properly store attractants.”
Last year also saw two different parties attacked by bears.
“One of the attacks involved a hiker and his wife encountering a female with young, feeding on an ungulate carcass adjacent to a trail,” Nicholson said. “The other attack involved two hunters that surprised a single bear in thick vegetation. In addition to the bear attacks, we had two hunters in different incidents that were charged by a grizzly bear and had time to deploy bear spray, which resulted in the bear running away. We also had another bear charge a hunter and one event of a bear chasing a hiker’s dog when he was hiking.”
Fish and Wildlife Service reminds people that feeding, approaching, or otherwise disturbing grizzly bears not only poses a significant threat to humans and bears, but is also a federal offense under the Endangered Species Act.