It used to be Missoula's bear problems were primarily in the fall, as the furry critters would get busy piling on calories for the winter.

But in the past couple of years, bears have started becoming more of an "all summer" problem, with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks warning the bruins are already being sited around numerous Missoula neighborhoods.

Last year was especially problematic, as the bears were seen downtown, rummaging through dumpsters and even hanging out in the hallway of a local apartment building.

Now, FWP biologists are saying they've already seen bears getting "bolder in search of food", as they put it. This spring, the agency has had sightings and reports of problems, including one bear that has even entered several homes.

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The state says the problem is that once bears become "food-conditioned", it's very difficult to break those bad habits, and the bears often have to be euthanized. While most of the sightings have involved black bears, FWP has had to deal with grizzlies much closer to people around Missoula and the Bitterroot in recent years.

Doing our part

FWP says the main problem is unsecured garbage cans and dumpsters, which allow the bears to easily access the trash and scrounge for food. They recommend talking with the city's two trash providers about using bear-resistant cans. Both Grizzly Disposal and Republic Services have been working on the issue.

Other problems included unsecured pet food, chicken feed, and backyard bird feeders.

More information to keep the bears, and you, safe

Local agencies set up a website a few years ago which offers both tips about being "bear aware", and very specific, neighborhood-level reports of bear activity. It's called missoulabears.org. The website was recently redesigned to make it easier to find information.

FWP Bear Specialist Jamie Jonkel says the state is working with community partnerships through the Bear Smart Working Group and has made a lot of progress dealing with the increasing bear problems. You can learn more about those efforts at this website.

A similar group, Bitterroot Bears, is doing the same thing in Ravalli County

“It’s great to see the city, county, and residents coming together to work proactively on bear issues. In order for progress to continue, everyone has to do their part in keeping their property as bear and wildlife resistant as possible,” Jonkel says.  “It doesn’t take much for a bear to get hooked on the foods we have around our houses. Even keep those bear-resistant cans inside as much as possible. Garbage-conditioned bears will often travel miles to get back to a garbage can.”

For more information on living, working, and recreating in Montana’s bear country, visit the FWP Bear Aware webpage.

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