With increased frequency of grizzly bears passing through the upper Clark Fork Valley, Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be handing out free cans of bear spray for hunters and landowners in the field this fall.
Vivaca Crowser, FWP information and education program manager, said grizzlies are not very frequent in the region, but there have been some confirmed reports over the years.
“We feel like there’s more bears in the area than there used to be,” she said.
Because of that, FWP will be giving away free bear spray, as well as offering training on how to use it. The program began in the Blackfoot valley close to a decade ago, Crowser said. The bear spray program is possible through donations from an environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife, and discounted prices from the supplier, Counter Assault.
Crowser said FWP wants to increase public awareness about bears and what to do when running into one in the upper Clark Fork region.
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But, residents in the region shouldn’t panic. Grizzly bear sightings are still considered rare, she said.
“They’re not increasing overly fast, but they’re coming out from the Continental Divide and Yellowstone. Between the two ecosystems, it’s a natural spot for bear movement,” Crowser said.
Crowser said that while black bears stay in wooded areas, grizzlies are more willing to traverse open areas. A lot of the upper Clark Fork valley consists of fairly open fields. With that in mind, FWP is trying to raise awareness for both hunters and ranchers in the upper Clark Fork region of the potential for a future grizzly bear encounter.
Crowser said FWP is hiring a bear specialist within the next few months to be stationed out of Deer Lodge.
She said the specialist will focus on outreach with land owners and hunters to make sure people know what can attract a bear and if there is a conflict situation in the upper Clark Fork, a bear specialist can trap a bear and relocate it.