North Idaho’s black bears are better behaved this year – generating fewer complaints for raiding bird feeders, upsetting garbage cans or scrambling onto decks in search of dog food.
Matt Haag, a senior conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, attributes the decrease in problem bear activity to more-abundant natural food supplies.
While the huckleberry crop has been spotty this year, it’s still better than last year, when the department received 770 calls related to problem bear activity in Bonner and Boundary counties and far northern Kootenai County. Some of the calls were for repeat incidents with the same bears, but it was still an unusually high number of complaints, Haag said.
The calls started in late winter. Bears in poor condition from the previous year were leaving their dens early in search of food. A late green-up in 2010 compounded the situation, delaying the spring growth that provides early season calories for bears, Haag said. Bears went searching for food from their human neighbors, a trend that continued throughout the poor huckleberry season.
In contrast, Fish and Game has received 158 bear complaints from the same geographic area this year.
Most of the complaints can be resolved by telling homeowners not to leave food outside, Haag said. Once they take down bird feeders, move dog food dishes inside and secure their garbage, the bears usually stop visiting, he said.
An expanding human population in North Idaho’s rural communities has led to increased people-bear conflicts in recent years, Haag added.
Many people “don’t realize that they’re moving into prime bear habitat,” he said. “We have a lot of black bears – more than other parts of the state.”
Certain areas, such as Schweitzer Mountain, seem to have chronic bear issues, Haag said. And the bears are savvy about picking up on patterns of human activity.
“They know when it’s garbage day,” he said. “Some people unfortunately feed them, and there are no laws against it in Idaho.”
Bears that become habituated to human food sources almost always end up being euthanized, Haag said. Some are relocated, but most find their way back to their original haunts.
One relocated black bear traveled 72 miles in two weeks, returning to the same neighborhood where it had been getting into trouble earlier.