Assessing Your Property's Bear Habitat Features

Do you know what role your property may play for grizzly and black bears attempting to move safely from place to place? Many people do not know that they live on a main wildlife travel corridor.

Bears can survive in developed areas with little or no conflict if they can move naturally between large blocks of habitat that offer sufficient natural sources of nutrition.

A bear will pass through a developed area to natural habitat, unless they locate a food attractant that makes it worth their while to linger. That is when the potential for conflict arises.

What Makes A Good Wildlife Movement Corridor?

Where a property sits in relation to surrounding landforms or waterways can make it an attractive wildlife travel route.

One travel hot-spot for bears is near water. Bears gravitate to areas adjacent to the banks of a river, stream or lake to travel with a good water source and vegetation good for food and cover. A stream with vegetative cover flowing through pastures, greenways, common areas and small blocks of undeveloped land allows wildlife a safe travel route through developed areas.

Given a choice, bears will also tend to travel on a riverbank or lake shore with the least amount of development. So, for example, someone living on a largely undeveloped piece of land across the water from a more densely developed shoreline or riverbank is likely to see bears and other wildlife crossing on their less populated side of the water.

Travel corridors also run along ridgelines and cross valley floors where multiple side draws and ridge systems come together. Expect to see game trails with multiple species travelling through these spaces—even when they occur near homesites and other development.

Bears attempting to move along corridors in the more heavily developed areas still seek travel routes with maximum cover and minimal human—irrigation ditches, abandoned highways or railroad beds, power and gas line easements, old logging roads, cattle trails, and bike trails. Private landowners along these routes can expect to see bears.

Bears will also take advantage of bridges, underpasses and culverts for safe access over and under highways, interstates, waterways and railroads.

Living near one of these features likely puts you on or near a wildlife travel route—and these days it might be the last remaining link available to wildlife for safe passage!

Keep Wildlife Moving Down the Corridor

When bears find a good patch of vegetation and rest and eat berries, grasses or forbs for a day, or even for an extended period of time, this is typically not a cause for concern. Keep your distance to allow them to forage, rest and move on.

However, when bears are attracted by human-related food sources—unsecured garbage, dirty barbeque grills, pet food, grain and bird seed—conflicts are more likely. These calorically rich foods make it tough for a bear to move on, and they draw the bear in closer to inhabited areas

Some bears become more tolerant of people than others—allowing those bears increased access to natural food sources that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

This type of bear behavior is known as habituation. When a bear is "habituated" to people it means that bear tolerates the presence of people as a result of frequent and benign contact. This type of complacent behavior is common with bears that feed on wild fruit trees in old orchards and grass and forbs in abandoned fields, or with bears that feed on chokecherries growing in close proximity to communities.

However, sometimes bears can be distracted by human-related food sources—unsecured garbage, dirty barbeque grills, pet food, grain and bird seed.

In short order, a bear or bears travelling through can become more than just a part time resident. Once a bear finds new, unnatural food sources, they almost immediately develop "food- conditioned" behavior. A “food-conditioned” bear associates human foods with the presence of people or the smell of people, human activities, human-use areas, or human storage such as trashcans, dumpsters, backpacks and vehicles. Dog food or livestock feed often first attracts a bear and draws it in, then it discovers the chickens or other small prey animals and it turns into a “food-conditioned” bear.

Food-conditioned and habituated bears are more prone than wary wild bears to get into conflicts with people and often need to be captured and relocated or sometimes euthanized.

So, protect yourself and bears. Go to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks "Be Bear Aware" website to learn how to identify and properly manage the surprisingly vast array of food items that attract bears. They range from a trailer loaded with garbage bags destined for the dump to the plastic cover on a hot tub.

Be aware that your property, even if it is in a residential area or rural community, may be located along an important wildlife movement zone.

For additional information visit FWP's Be Bear Aware web pages at fwp.mt.gov., the Living With Wildlife Foundation website at http://www.lwwf.org/ , or, the Missoula Bears website at missoulabears.org .
 

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