May 18, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
People in Seeley Lake are among the first to know when bears are out and about every spring.
You don't have to spot the bears themselves. All you have to do is watch Fish, Wildlife & Parks Warden, Bill Koppen.
On Monday, Bill was on the move again, this time in response to several reports of a grizzly too close to town. I was up the Blackfoot myself on Monday, but out of touch with this particular problem, so I don't have the details for you.
Bears in town hardly make the news in Seeley Lake anymore. It's simply a way of life. Unless you're a bear. Then it's often the way life ends.
Hunters know it's illegal to hunt bears over bait in Montana. But, if you think about it, homeowners have been baiting bears for years, both in and out of hunting season. And the end comes to the bear just as surely as if the homeowner pulled the trigger himself.
No, it may not happen today, tomorrow or even this year, but more than likely the bear that finds your unsecured garbage, bird feeder, dog food or other attractants will eventually die as a result of a control action.
It makes you wonder what the outcome would be if the bear working its way down Drew Creek or Morrell Creek wasn't swayed from its natural path by the overwhelming smell of human foods. Or, even more importantly, if the bear's investigative efforts weren't rewarded with an unprotected food source.
Think about it next time you're sitting on your deck, watching the black bear entertain you as it tries to figure out the combination to the latest deterrent device at your bird feeder. Maybe the bear already finished the leftover dog food. It's been rewarded for approaching humans. It is associating human presence and tolerance with food. It's losing its natural fear of humans.
It's a serious problem.
"Not for me," you reply confidently. "I don't want the bear removed. I'm willing to accept the consequences."
Would you accept the consequences if the bear got frustrated enough to enter your house through a broken window? It happens every year. And, if you can honestly answer yes, do you expect your neighbor to answer the same?
Because when you allow bears to share your food, you are not only making a choice that affects you and your family. You are also making a choice that takes options away from your neighbors. Bears have insatiable appetites, and once they get used to humans and are rewarded for it, they are just as apt to end up inside your neighbor's house as yours.
Wouldn't it be better for all if we kept the garbage and dog food indoors, and the bird feeders, fruit trees and gardens electric fenced? That way, we needn't worry so much about what we might bump into while stumbling between the house and garage in the dark. And, that way, we wouldn't be attracting bears from miles around into situations that will ultimately get them killed.
This summer, if neighbors would get together and resolve to bearproof their neighborhoods, we could have the best of both worlds. We could have wild bears and safer people. By working together, we reduce the futility of one neighbor going to great lengths to keep wildlife wild, while the other neighbor feeds grain to deer and every other critter that finds it.
Because black bear hunting season closed on May 15. This summer, let's also close the season on bear-baiting and indirect killing at our homes.