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Unsecured garbage in Whitefish a smorgasbord for bears

by Daily Inter Lake
| September 14, 2021 1:36 PM

Following recent reports and sightings of 19 black bears getting into garbage and eating fruit in Whitefish, and the capture and relocation of a grizzly bear from downtown Whitefish, state wildlife officials have once again issued a stern warning for Whitefish area residents to use bear-resistant garbage containers or keep garbage containers indoors until the day of collection.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is receiving numerous daily reports of bears getting into unsecured food attractants across the region, but the activity is substantial in Whitefish.

The state agency recently captured and moved a grizzly bear that was in the West Eighth and Ninth street area near downtown.

Among the food-seeking bruins are:

• An adult female with three cubs in the Wisconsin Avenue area;

• An adult female with two cubs in the Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa avenues;

• An adult female with two cubs in the Colorado Avenue area;

• An adult female with two cubs in the Baker Avenue area;

• An adult female with one cub in the State Park and Lion Mountain roads area;

• An adult bear in the Wisconsin Avenue area;

• An adult bear in the Ninth Street area;

• An adult bear in the East Lakeshore Drive area;

• An adult bear in the Dakota Avenue area.

“The bear activity in Whitefish is on the rise,” FWP Wildlife Conflict Specialist Erik Wenum said in a press release. “We’re asking for help from residents who can do their part to address this issue by properly storing their garbage and removing other food attractants such as domestic fruit. This will help improve public safety and prevent the lethal removal of these bear families.”

The city of Whitefish has an ordinance requiring homeowners to store individual garbage cans indoors until the day of collection or have an animal-resistant container. Unsecured trash cans cannot remain at the curb.

IN OTHER bear activity, on Sept. 11 FWP bear managers captured an adult female grizzly bear and two cubs in the Trego area and moved the bears north of Upper Whitefish Lake on a remote section of state land. The bears reportedly were eating dog food near a residence. They did not have prior conflict history and the adult female was fitted with a GPS radio collar.

Most human-bear conflicts involve bears protecting their young or a food source. The overwhelming majority of human-bear encounters do not involve conflict and bears seldom attack or injure people, the press release stated.

Bears that gain rewards from human food sources, such as garbage and domestic fruit, can become food-conditioned, which means they lose their natural foraging ability and pose an increased risk to human safety. Food rewards can also lead wildlife to become habituated to people, another increased risk to human safety. Both food-conditioning and habituation often lead to euthanizing an animal for safety reasons.

FWP can attempt to capture and move bears away from residences before they are food-conditioned or habituated, but trapping is difficult in urban areas. On average, it takes up to two days to capture a bear and longer if there are cubs accompanying an adult female. If a trap captures a cub and separates it from its mother, it creates a significant public safety threat. Also, it is very difficult to lure a bear into a trap when there are abundant human food sources such as garbage in the area, the agency noted.

A Facebook page named Flathead Fruit Gleaning works to connect residents who want to pick up fruit with those who need fruit picked up. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/FlatheadFruitGleaning/.

Residents can donate fruit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone by dropping off the fruit at the FWP office in Kalispell the week of Sept. 20, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

To report grizzly bear activity in Flathead County, call FWP bear management specialists at 406-250-1265.

To report black bear and mountain lion activity in Flathead County, call 406-250-0062. To report bear activity in Sanders and Lincoln counties, call 406-291-1320.

For more information on being safe around bears, visit https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/species/bear

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A family of black bears comb through a garbage dumpster in Whitefish recently. State officials are urging people to securely store garbage to prevent bear encounters. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks photo)

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An unsecured garbage can is an easy target for bears to find food. State wildlife officials say bear activity is on the rise in Northwest Montana. Whitefish has reported 19 black bears getting into garbage and eating fruit in its urban center. State officials are urging people to securely store garbage to prevent bear encounters. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks photo)