Forest Service working to educate public about bear encounters

Posted at 10:26 AM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 12:26:03-04

HELENA – The grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem has seen a significant rise over the past decade, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Current estimates put the number of bears around 1,000 in the NCDE, which includes the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The growth in bear population has led to more frequent bear encounters with humans.

“Remember that in a lot of communities in Montana are now working with bears where they never have before and we all have to work together as Montanans, as a community, to help each other be safe and to keep Montana wild,” said Sara Sylte, a bear education specialist.

On Tuesday, June 4, the U.S. Forest Service trained their Lincoln Ranger Station staff in bear safety and about how to educate the public about bears.

“We’ve gotten better about how we explain these things to the public,” explained Sylte. “We work on more communication skills, how to teach better and making sure we’re dispelling any myths.”

Forest Service staff are regularly educated on bear encounters, food storage orders, and the use of bear spray.

Sylte believes everyone should become educated on bear safety.

“If you live, work, or do anything in Montana – especially with the increased number of bears – it’s important,” said Sylte. “It’s kind of like driving and taking a defensive driving course. You should know about the things you could encounter at any time.”

Sylte added bear spray is a great tool in reducing the severity of a bear encounter, but people need to have the knowledge and practice in using it.

In 2018, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest were placed under new food storage orders to help provide more human safety and limit bear encounters.

The Forest Service has a list of the food storage orders and other bear encounter information on their website.

-Reported by John Riley/MTN News