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Are wolf, bear regs really needed?

| September 23, 2021 12:00 AM

BE BEAR AWARE! That’s the slogan of wildlife folks who’s job it is to minimize bear and people conflicts.

With the end of summer and the fall season here, all of us living in bear country must be aware of how bears, both black bears and grizzly bears, are on a relentless search for food or calories in order to survive the approaching long winter denning season.

The local news media is full of bear and people conflict stories. While in their dens, bear metabolism virtually shuts down and their survival depends on withdrawing calories from their stored fat.

They will not eat anything for several months, so they need to go into their winter dens with as many calories as they can stockpile during the summer and fall months.

Bear management has taken an interesting turn over the last 20-30 years.

Ever since European settlers began to come to North America in the 1500s, until the last 30 years or so, bears and other large predators such as wolves and mountain lions were deemed to be threats to our farm animals, and even humans.

So, large predators were hunted, trapped and poisoned until near extinction. But in recent decades large predators have been recognized as part of our natural heritage, and in need of protection.

They are the darlings of this environmental era. I wouldn’t be surprised if many wildlife agencies now spend more money on bear and wolf management than on deer and elk management.

Published wildlife information is designed to minimize conflicts between bears and people. This information is generally restrictive on what people living in bear country should do or not do.

This information is designed to change human behavior to avoid attracting bears. Human activities are constrained to protect bears.

When bears and people get into conflict, bears usually die. There are bears living throughout the Flathead Valley, including our cities and towns. So, it’s not just those of us who hunt, camp or hike in the surrounding mountains who must be bear aware, all Flathead citizens must be watchful.

The Flathead Valley is a lush valley with much better bear food sources than some of the surrounding mountains where bears are suppose to live, away from people.

There are several forested stream corridors flowing across the Flathead Valley. These tend to act as highways for bears coming into the valley.

Our valley has productive soils and enough rainfall so that our residential backyards and farm land are full of fruit trees, lush vegetable gardens and agricultural products that are attractive to bears.

According to the published bear/people conflict information, we should be putting electric fences around our vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

We should also put all our dog food, livestock food, BBQ grills, garbage cans and other bear attractants inside hard sided buildings at night. All these are good methods to reduce bear and people conflicts.

But many Flathead residents are fiercely independent and don’t like to be told what to do, especially on their property.

Most of us look at our back yards as our private kingdom. We don’t want to fortify our homes and back yards. I believe that most of us deserve to have the peaceful enjoyment of our homes and property.

If I wanted the thrill or threat of having grizzlies in my back yard, I would move to the North Fork or Swan. When my kids and grandkids go into my backyard, the last thing I want them to encounter is a bear, especially a grizzly.

Perhaps one way to reduce bear and people conflicts is to have fewer large predators. Last winter the legislature enacted several bills that provide more latitude for Montana citizens to protect themselves, their families and their property from large predators such as wolves and bears.

Let me throw out a suggestion that will generate some public discussion. Do we even need any wildlife regulations for black bears, wolves and mountain lions?

Perhaps they should be subject to hunting and trapping all year long.

In Montana, we have an abundance of coyotes, badgers, skunks, raccoons, gophers, fox, porcupines and prairie dogs.

These wildlife species are classified as unprotected animals or predatory animals. People can kill them anytime.

No seasons and no licenses are needed. Yet they are not in short supply. Are wolves or bears any less likely to survive without the loving, protective hands of laws and biologists?

Perhaps one of the most difficult bear/people guidelines to comply with is the storage of harvested game animals in hunting camps.

The traditional method was to throw a rope over a tree branch and hoist the dead animal off the ground two or three feet.

That is easily done. But this type of game storage is not bear proof. The recommended or new requirement is to hang the animal so the lowest portion of the carcass is 10 feet off the ground.

Yes, 10 feet off the ground!

The carcass must also be no closer than four feet from the trunk of a tree or pole. Let me tell you that hoisting a 100-pound elk quarter or 200-pound deer carcass 10 feet off the ground is no easy task!

So, since we all live or recreate in bear country, we all need to be aware of how to minimize conflicts with bears.