BONNERS FERRY— Bears that do bear things often die as a result of relocation efforts or by euthanasia on behalf of wildlife authorities. Luckily, there are prevention measures residents can take to live safely and peacefully with the bear population and to hopefully encourage the grizzly population to grow.
The Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative (KVRI) hosted a meeting to discuss ways in which Boundary County citizens may mitigate grizzly and black bear negative contacts on Jan. 23, at the Boundary County Fairgrounds.
Getting a head start on the meetings, planning, and education efforts is underway as active bear season is from around the first of April until Thanksgiving and into the first weeks of December.
One of the topics of discussion was a focus on how residents of bear country can help sustain the already low grizzly bear count as well as build the numbers up and possibly get the grizzly off of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Endangered Species Recovery list.
Within the Idaho and Montana area, wildlife agency officials have had to capture and euthanize three bears this past June.
One black bear was killed for breaking into a cabin, for eating livestock feed in a corral, and for causing property damage, a grizzly was killed for breaking into a chicken coop and killing chickens, and the third, a grizzly in North Idaho, for killing seven sheep.
Montana Fish and Wildlife representative, Kim Annis, brought a visual presentation for attendees with a multitude of information regarding the management of bears in Montana, and how this particular area works to slow down the negative interactions between community members and bears.
“We are trying to get ahead of the conflicts that might happen, and help communities to be more aware that bears are here and that they are going to be here and to just be able to get ahead of that,” said Annis. ”We don’t have a large scale number of grizzly bears in the Cabinets, around 55-65 bears but, when we do have more grizzly bears in the future, we could have more conflicts.”
The idea is to work on prevention efforts now, and prepare for bear conflicts by removing or protecting the attractants.
“Ultimately, I want to reduce the unnecessary grizzly bear mortalities, that means, things that could have been prevented prior to the conflict actually happening,” said Annis.
Given that the grizzly bear has been listed on the Wildlife Endangered Species list and is a protected animal, means that the grizzly bear cannot be killed by residents for nuisance issues such as livestock attacks and or property loss or other such reasons.
“There is no compensation for loss from grizzly bear,” said Idaho Conservation Officer for Idaho Fish and Game, Brian Johnson.
Because the grizzly bear is under federal protected status, the Idaho Statute, Title 36 Chapter 11, regarding compensation for damages from bears, among other animals, cannot provide residents relief due to loss because the grizzly is protected under the federal act.
“There are funds available through some non-profits and other organizations to help with costs from bear damages,” said Annis. “The majority of conflicts we have had, is mostly chicken coops. The only way to prevent bears from getting into chicken coops is to electrify them.”
There are three primary sources of bear attractants, regardless of the species of bear. These are; garbage (the most attractive to bears), fruiting trees and small livestock such as chickens, pigs and goats. Residents should limit attractants to help the bear-human cohabitation efforts.
“Life is pretty easy if you get to eat pig feed in the backyard at somebody’s house; you don’t have to do anything else in order to be big fat and happy so why bother? Bears are kind of lazy,” explained Annis. “One the biggest tools I have in my toolbox is electrified fencing”
The idea behind electrifying the bear attractants is to teach bears, the first time they encounter the attractant, that it is an unpleasant experience. The shocks encourage bears to keep moving on to their natural habitats and out of human populated areas, homesteads, and residential neighborhoods.
“Once the bear figures it out [the learned experience of shock], he won’t become a nuisance and require trapping and removal,” said Annis. “There are programs that will help residents with temporary electrical fencing, and even will help find someone who can help residents hook it all up; traps are placed when it is really necessary.”
Statistical data from the tracking of collars placed on captured and relocated bears finds disturbing information.
“I would say that I have a very low success rate for reducing mortality by using the relocation method,” said Annis.
The data shows that trapped and relocated bears have a huge failure rate at surviving once they are relocated. Twelve bears have been captured and relocated per data Annis presented in the meeting for reasons ranging from getting into fruit trees, garbage, and for grazing in yards to killing pigs.
“Out of all the bears that I have relocated, only two are known to be alive,” said Annis. “Ultimately, there is a different goal for each bear for why we do what we do. Obviously, we don’t want bears to die if we can prevent it.”
Annis uses tools to help stop the need to trap, relocate, or kill bears.
“I have a large, free, temporary loan program for temporary net fencing,” said Annis. “If people don’t have the money at that time, these fences are able to be loaned out as a preventative measure.”
Residents who become proactive in electrifying bear attractants can help these odds.
Once bears learn the behavior of getting into things, causing property damage and/or killing livestock, the chance that they will become a nuisance and the probability of their demise/death is very high whether they are euthanized or relocated.
“So, if I have a bear that gets into garbage, I put up the electric fencing and then make a determination on whether or not that bear can learn about the fence and leave the area,” said Annis. “The bear learns something about electric fencing and what it can and cannot touch.”
This is statistically, the best outcome, in lieu of the trapping and relocation or killing of bears.
“Relocating that bear, without putting up a fence or eliminating the attractant, doest really solve it; it is a temporary fix, the bear can turn around and return within a few days, and garbage still sits there… and there’s lots of other bears out there… there’s always another bear,” said Annis.
The other meeting agenda bullet point concerned the group with the brainstorm session to come up with ideas on creating a notification process in order to warn residents about a bear sighting.
“We may utilize the Nixle system to alert residents whether there is a known grizzly bear in the area,” said Boundary County Sheriff David Kramer. “There are a lot of places in the county where a cell phone text or call is unable to be placed. People in the backcountry can text 911, where a message will come up on the screen of the dispatchers.”
The next Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative representative Rhonda Vogl can be contacted at email@example.com or 208-267-3519. The Nixle service for weather alerts, emergencies, road issues, wildfires, accidents, etc. can be accessed by texting the zip code where you would like information to 888-777; for Boundary County, use the 83805 zip code.