Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - I know it doesn’t FEEL like spring, but Mother Nature won’t be denied, especially if you’re a bear, so Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are letting Missoula residents know that bear encounters could occur now that the bears are leaving their dens looking for food after the long, cold winter.

KGVO News spoke with Vivaca Crowser, Region 2 Education and Program Manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks about what to watch for as the bears emerge from hibernation.

Many Bears are Emerging from their Dens Looking for Food

“Around Missoula, we've had a few reports of bears out and about, and that'll just continue to pick up here over the next few weeks,” began Crowser. “It's that time of year when we need to take down our bird feeders that can be an attractant, especially in certain parts of town. Make sure your garbage is secured and inside until the morning of collection, using those bear-resistant canisters where you can is really important, and then lots of other things around our homes that can lure bears such as a dirty barbecue grill or a compost pile or pet foods that maybe we leave out on the back porch.”

For those who may be hiking and accidentally find themselves between a mother bear and her cub, Crowser has this advice.

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Crowser has advice for Hikers that Encounter a Bear

“That protective mode of a mother bear adds to the element of risk for sure in a bear encounter,” she said. “If you accidentally end up between a cub and its mom the same safety reminders are there and they hold true. So you want to always stop. If you see an animal of any sort, just stop, remain as calm as you can, and give it space. In most cases, a bear or other animals are going to use that opportunity to get out of there. They don't want to be in that close encounter with us either.”

Crowser said Grizzly bears are becoming more numerous and expanding their range closer to western Montana and to be extra watchful.

“It's more common to have Grizzly bears in the greater Missoula area than it has been before,” she said. “We're most commonly going to encounter black bears around here, but every year we have Grizzly bears near us. Certainly, we're not far from a habitat that's really inhabited by grizzly bears pretty frequently so we had bears reported last summer. We have the grizzly bears in the Northern Bitterroot. We always have them just to the north of us in the Rattlesnake Wilderness coming down from the northern Continental Divide ecosystem where there's a strong population of grizzly bears.”

Crowser says Make lots of Noise and Learn how to use your Bear Spray

Crowser said it’s definitely time to wake up and be ‘bear aware’.

“Of course, when you're out on the trails, it's also the time of year to get back in that mode of remembering that bears are out there with us too,” she said. “So make some extra noise, be careful, and look out for the signs that you might encounter a bear, are all very important. If you're in areas of dense brush, make extra noise, slow down a little bit, and just be extra cautious; of course, carrying that bear spray is really important, but also being familiar with how to use it. There are some great videos online that show you those tips and then you know if you ever have any questions, Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is happy to run through how to use bear spray with you if you stop by our office as well.”

Call the Missoula FWP Office at 406-542-5500 or visit their office at 3201 Spurgin Road.

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