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Columbia Falls passes emergency bear law

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | September 14, 2022 10:17 AM

The Columbia Falls City Council passed an emergency ordinance Sept. 6 that requires residents to secure garbage and other attractants, like fruit from trees, from bears and other wildlife.

The move comes after a spate of problems with grizzly and black bears in town this year. This fall is expected to be even worse, as the berry crop has been spotty at best due to an unusually cold spring, coupled with a very hot and dry August and September.

“We have more people and more bears,” Justine Vallieres, a bear specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks told city council.

The law, good for 90 days, requires people and businesses to “store all attractants, including garbage and recycling, indoors or in bear-resistant garbage cans.”

It also requires people to pick ripe fruit from trees and areas around trees; remove or empty bird feeders at night; and also “store coolers, grills, smokers, and any other items with food scent indoors.”

Vallieres said in her five years working with bears in the region, this is the worst she’s seen it.

She deals with bear and other wildlife conflicts from Montana 40 north to Canada and west to Eureka. She said she’s had 520 conflict calls this year so far.

In a typical year, she sets barrel traps for bears in people’s yards and property. This year has been different — bears have broken into houses and garages looking for food. Those homes are top priority for traps.

The emergency ordinance is designed, in part, to prevent accidental injury.

It also requires that garbage cans only be placed at the curb the morning of pickup. Chicken owners must either secure their coops and feed or put an electric fence around the area. Electric fencing has been proven to be an effective bear deterrent.

The city plans on being proactive with the law — warning most folks, but officials will ticket egregious offenders.

Vallieres has lent a hand as well. Prior to the meeting, she helped put an electric fence around the garbage containers at the Highline Apartments, which were attracting grizzlies.

One sow grizzly has been roaming the east side of the city on and off for months now, with attempts to catch the bear proving unsuccessful.

It’s difficult to lure a bear into a barrel trap if there’s easy garbage and other food to be had, Vallieres noted.

Councilors also raised concerns about a compost facility just outside the city limits north of the railroad tracks.

The smell, they surmised, could be drawing in bears. Last year it drew in seven grizzlies, but a better and more effective electric fence has since gone up.

Still, the smell from the facility could be calling bears in for miles, they speculated.

FWP has free plans on how to deter bears with electric fencing at:

https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/conservation/wildlife-reports/bears/mfwp_electric-fencing-guide_v4.0.pdf.

For folks who need help with fruit trees, there is a Facebook page of people willing to take fruit at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/648091336127907/.

Whitefish recently passed a similar law and is rolling out distribution of bear resistant garbage cans through its city.

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