POWELL (March 30) — The first bear was spotted out of hibernation in Yellowstone National Park about two weeks ago. That means the bear season has begun and residents need to shake off their own sleepiness about living in the same region as these bruins — both grizzly and black bears.
There are the usual warnings to heed, such as being noisy when going into bear habitat. Wear a bell on a saddle girth, or on a belt loop. Stop and call out “Hey bear” frequently. Carry bear spray and know how to use it effectively.
Travel in groups rather than alone. Pay attention to where you are in relation to where bears like to be, like areas with dense brushy growth or fishing honey holes. Watch the terrain around you for disturbed areas where a bear or bears have turned over logs, dug for roots and made their marks on tree bark. There may also be dug-up areas where they have hidden carcasses they intend to return to and it is not uncommon for them to defend these food caches.
But there is more to living in bear territory than watching out for yourself when you enter their habitat.
Humans have to keep in mind that bears travel, and since they can’t read, that travel is often outside of reserves and parks. It may well be they travel across your property — especially if that property borders their known habitat.
Bears will move along drainages and creek beds. They have a sense of smell that is beyond compare, and will leave a creek bed to wander into a lawn or subdivision if they smell an easy meal. That meal can be pet food left out on the porch, a full bird feeder, garbage or livestock feed stored improperly, a grill cooling from the evening’s cooking, or a lunchbox forgotten in the cab of a pickup truck. Bears have been known to break into vehicles to snack on such delights as a crate of peaches stashed in the trunk, and are often not at all alarmed by the car alarm going off.
The best way to live in harmony with bears is to remain aware that they could be nearly anywhere, including at your home. Make that as inhospitable as possible to them by keeping pet and livestock feed stowed in inaccessible areas. There have been reports of bears learning to toss trash cans containing sweet feed, causing the can to pop open and rewarding the bear with a sticky meal. If the area in which you live is frequented by bears, consider removing bird feeders during the summer. Keep brush and undergrowth cut back as much as possible, eliminating places for them to make day beds.
If there is nothing to eat and nowhere to loaf, it isn’t likely the bears will want to hang around. Activity around a busy yard or farm area is also discouraging.
It should go without saying you should never approach bears, entice them to feed at your property, and understand the phrase “mama bear” is well earned. A sow bear with cubs is quite likely the most dangerous creature on the planet if she feels the cubs are threatened.
By keeping one’s eyes open and head on a swivel when in bear territory, it is very possible to live in distant harmony with our bruin neighbors.