Recent observations of bear tracks in the snow indicate bears are emerging from hibernation and venturing out looking for food in and around Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
Signs of Yellowstone’s bears emerged earlier this month when park employees observed grizzly tracks on Mary Mountain, roughly near the center of the lower loop of the park’s Grand Loop Road.
Tracks were spotted in Glacier this week, prompting Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright to remind visitors: “Bear tracks in the snow are a good reminder that Glacier National Park is bear country and park visitors need to be alert for bear activity and to be familiar with and comply with safety regulations.”
Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk, bison, mule deer, pronghorn and other animals that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.
Tracks and other evidence have also been found in and around Missoula.
Hikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers in and around the parks are encouraged to travel in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, and keep an eye out for bears. Bear pepper spray has proven to be a good last line of defense, if kept handy and used according to directions when the bear is within 30 to 40 feet.
Visitors should not approach any wildlife; instead, use binoculars, telescopes, or telephoto lenses to get closer looks.
Visitors are also reminded to keep food, garbage and other attractants stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes when not in use. Garbage must be deposited into a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster. These actions help keep bears from becoming conditioned to human food, and help keep park visitors and their personal property safe.
Cartwright added, “One of the reasons people visit the park is to experience a vast wild land, capable of supporting a healthy population of both black and grizzly bears. While here park visitors are encouraged to carry, and know how to properly use, bear spray. We want everyone to have a safe experience while enjoying the park.”
Federal law allows the carrying of firearms within national parks and wildlife refuges consistent with state laws. Glacier managers agree with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks’ statement: “If you are armed, use a firearm only as a last resort; wounding a bear, even with a large caliber gun, can put you in far greater danger.”
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffered injury about 50 percent of the time. During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries.