CASCADE COUNTY, Mont. - While wildlife officials found no evidence of bears in Giant Springs State Park following reports of a sighting, they’re asking people to be ‘Bear Aware’ to protect you in any encounters with the animal.
While running into bears isn’t very likely around Great Falls, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) says it’s always a possibility, especially as their populations grow and move further east.
“We used to think of bear country as being the mountain country. Well we have prairie bears now as well. They’ve been expanding their range over the past few years,” said Dave Hagengruber, FWP Region 4’s information & education manager.
Bear spray is an easy and effective tool for fending off bears as well as other predators, as long as it hasn’t expired and is in an easy to grab spot.
If possible, avoid keeping it at the bottom of your backpack. Digging for it can take precious seconds or minutes away, giving you less time to actually use it. “You need to have it out where you can get to it easy and get to it in a hurry, so accessibility with the spray is really important,” said Hagengruber.
You should also travel in groups if you plan on exploring Mother Nature. The bigger your party, the less likely bears will approach.
“It’s louder, it’s noisier, and for sure from the bear’s perspective, there’s a group of people there. That’s a more intimidating thing to come up against than just a single alone hiker,” Hagengruber explained.
If a bear does notice you, back away slowly and make some noise, letting them know you’re not prey. Whatever you do, Hagengruber tells Montana Right Now you shouldn't run at all costs.
“It’s no different from if a dog approaches you and you run, that just sets off that predatory instinct, ‘Oh I better chase this thing, it’s running from me,’ he said.
Finally, whether you’re fishing, camping or eating outdoors, make sure you pack your things and clean up properly. Anything that seems like food could attract bears long after you’ve left.
“Basic precautions really go a long way to preventing any problems with the bears,” said Hagengruber.
Other ‘Bear Aware’ precautions also include:
Travelling or hiking during the day
Staying on trails or rural roads
Avoiding places with dead animals, carcasses or sites with natural scavengers like ravens
Watching out for bear signs like scat, diggings and turned over rocks
Keeping children and pets close
Not approaching any bear you see