Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 11 September 2004

Bears in town seeking food

By SCOTT McMILLIONBozeman Daily Chronicle Staff Writer

If you see a bear in town, don't call 911. Simply seeing a bear does not constitute an emergency, and black bears are all over this year.

But if you want to keep the bruins out of your yard, keep it clean.

That's the message Sam Sheppard wants to send. He's warden captain in Bozeman for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

"It's exploding in Bozeman," Sheppard said Friday of the bear situation. "We took about 15 calls today."

Bears, he said, will be bears. They are hyperphagic at this time of year, desperate to put on calories before entering their dens for the winter.

That means they wander in search of food, and plenty of them are coming into Bozeman, Livingston and Big Sky.

"For the most part, they mind their own business," Sheppard said. "But we're having more and more issues with people leaving food out."

Friday provided a strong example, he said. Callers from a house on Church Street complained there was a bear in a tree and garbage all over the street.

That was true, Sheppard said.

But there was more garbage in the yard. There were apples on the ground, half-full beer bottles, coolers, a compost heap, a barbecue, marshmallows on sticks by a firepit and even a bucket of spuds and cantaloupe rinds.

The only thing missing was a dish of dog food, Sheppard said.

It's no wonder the 250-pound black bear keyed in on that property, he said.

"It's all right on Sourdough Creek," which is a natural pathway into the city.

Nearby, a sow with two cubs has been jumping in and out of yards, he said. One resident wants the bears removed.

"But the neighbor next door refuses to take the bird feeders down," Sheppard said.

Bozeman has spread into the foothills to the south, and that means "there's no buffer zone any more" between wild country and town.

"We've built Bozeman up to the edge of the forest," he said. "They (bears) been so accustomed to people living and recreating in their world. They don't really bother anybody, but they're not afraid."

In Livingston, at least five complaints about bear activity were lodged with the police department this week, according to a dispatch officer.

Most are on the town's south side, where there are three public schools and a private school, which causes concerns for some parents. One woman's house was scratched.

A beekeeper in Park County also has shot four or five black bears this year for raiding hives. FWP is helping him get some electric fences.

Big Sky also is seeing lots of bear activity, Sheppard said, including a group of four bears that moved into a grocery store that was stocked with goods, but never opened for business.

They got gallons of chocolate, tins of cinnamon and all sorts of other goods, Sheppard said, before moving on to garbage dumpsters at an employee dormitory.

Those bears were trapped and moved, he said. But in most cases, he's reluctant to capture bears for doing what comes naturally.

"As long as it stays out of trouble, we'll leave it alone," he said. "They're not inherently dangerous if left alone."

Black bears, he said, "are not really being a nuisance if they're eating the garbage you left out for them."

He urged people to lock up barbecues, pick up fallen apples, cover compost heaps, remove bird feeders and wait until the morning of collection day to put their garbage out.

Bears will go into hibernation by November. Making a few accommodations for a couple months can help bears and people live together safely, he said.

Scott McMillion is at scottm@dailychronicle.com