When an image of Montana is conjured up in your minds’ eye, one usually pictures large, rocky peaks, vast forests, moose, elk and wolves, and…of course…BEARS! For those of us living in Montana, we know bears…for those of us in Northwestern Montana, where our farm is located…we DEFINITELY know bears. A fun fact…Northwest Montana has an average concentration of one black bear per square mile. In addition, Northwest Montana has the highest concentration of the mighty grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. So ya…we know bears. In some areas, the chances of seeing a bear over seeing a human is MUCH higher. With this in mind, precautions, and being vigilant, is a very necessary aspect of our daily lives on the farm.
As is evident in the above picture, (taken about 200 feet from our back door) bears come in several colors. Black bears can be…well, black…but they also can be born a light, or dark, brown color, and even a cinnamon color. The two little siblings above are obviously two different colors, and their big bruiser of a momma bear, who was just off camera, was a cinnamon color. Black bears typically are smaller in size overall than a grizzly…but not always. What black bears lack, which grizzlies always have, is a pronounced shoulder hump. Black bears also have much larger ears, and a more “sloping” facial profile, as opposed to the grizzlies small ears, and “concave” facial profile.
Regardless of the bear species, they are wary of people, but, like any wild animal, can become accustomed to people…which is a problem in the farm life…
When we first moved to our farm, all the yards, pastures, and the property in general, had been neglected for years…Mother Nature took over again, creating the ultimate environment for bears to thrive. When we arrived, it did not take long for our “neighbors” to make their presence known. Bears routinely would walk amongst our vehicles, buildings, on our decks…even take a peek into our bedroom window! They enjoyed stuffing themselves on our cherries and apples, and even more enjoyed rolling around in the front yard on the gravel drives. Once we added livestock, began the systematic reclaiming of the property from Mother Nature, the bears slowly moved further out and back into the woods…however they are not gone…hardly a week goes by where we do not run into these large critters somewhere on the property.
Watching bears is entertaining and amazing…watching cubs and mommas romp around, play fight and wrestle on the front lawn is all well and good, but to us, this was not ideal. We knew the bears were here first, and just do what they are made to do…follow their powerful nose to food…be it our compost, fruit, shrubs, flowers, or livestock. We have lost small livestock to black bears…and grizzlies will easily overpower weak, young, or loner cattle if the hunger strikes them…so here are a few tips about keeping your bears a safe distance from your farm while respecting and admiring them…
- Keep smelly items locked away…if it has a smell, do not leave it out in the open. Livestock feed, chicken feed, dog food, and so forth, must be locked away in, at MINIMUM, “bear resistant” containers.
- Move all garbage into a locked garage or building. If garbage can be safely and efficiently burned…and if your area allows burn barrels…burn it.
- Do not keep fruity car fresheners inside your vehicle, or anything food related within your vehicle…unless you do not value your vehicles’ windows or interior. Bears noses are MUCH more powerful than any of your hounds…believe me, even a juvenile black bear will make quick work of your vehicles’ windows to snag a snack.
- If you compost, as most farmers do, keep it at a safe location you don’t mind the bears accessing…trust us…they…will…come. The upside is they will turn over your valuable compost looking for goodies.
- Maintain your pastures…the less shrubs/brush to hide in, the less likely a bear will willingly move around in that area…brush hog that brush!
- Install electric fencing around beehives and small animals enclosures. All major electric fence companies make, what we like to call, “Montana Rated” chargers…the ones that’ll make even a grizzly, moose or elk choose another method around your fencing.
- Keep a radio on in outbuildings…the more tasteless and annoying the music the better…bears rather enjoy the classics…so that may work against you.
- Large breed dogs, or livestock guardian dogs, are great deterrents to bears, and other spooky Montana predators. Having at least a working pair is better than a solo hound.
- Above all…do NOT ever assume a firearm will stop a bear, especially not a grizzly. There are countless stories of bears being shot multiple times and living full, healthy lives…after they ate you. Bear spray is your friend and it is proven FAR more effective on bears than your trusty rifle.
Be “Bear Aware,” as the National Park Service says…they are magnificent, entertaining animals to watch, but always keep these tips in mind on your daily routine about your farm.