Welcoming New Neighbors

There’s a mix of excitement and apprehension that comes with seeing someone new moving into your neighborhood. Will they be fun to hang out with? Will they throw the best parties? Will they put up too many Christmas lights? Will they play loud music at all hours?

Grangeville, Idaho, is welcoming some new community members this spring. Well, more accurately, these neighbors are returning home after a long time. And that’s pretty exciting!

As grizzly bears inch toward population connectivity and recovery, Idaho will be the next state to officially welcome these endangered animals back into their historical habitat. Grizzly bears are native to Idaho, and the massive wilderness areas are ideal for them.

Of course, there are humans living in Idaho, too. It’s inevitable that as grizzlies return home, they’ll come across roads, ranches, neighborhoods, gardens, and more. But that doesn’t have to spell disaster for anyone; there are some tried and true methods for success in coexistence. Idahoans have an incredible opportunity to get ahead of the game with the goal of keeping everyone safe. 

News broke on April 22, 2020, that a grizzly bear track was confirmed about seven miles south of Grangeville, Idaho. In terms of grizzly bear conservation, a bear officially in this area is a significant milestone in the long-range game of species recovery. Fish Creek Meadows, where the track was recorded, is due west as the crow flies from Hamilton, Montana. This area is nestled among the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and the Payette National Forest. This particular bear popped up along the route that other grizzlies will have to successfully navigate in order to achieve connectivity and genetic diversity. 

Grizzly bears exist mostly in the wilderness; they don’t enjoy the hectic life of the front country, aren’t partial to roads or human chaos. But they can be easily persuaded to visit places where food is available. They have no concept that getting into unsecured attractants is likely to get them killed, and they’re led by their incredibly powerful nose. With humans taking up more and more bear habitat these days, how will we achieve coexistence? 

Idaho has an exciting opportunity to welcome grizzlies home, and keep them safe. Here are a few suggestions for being the ideal bear neighbor:

Keep bears moving through.

Don’t give a bear any reason to stop at your property. If there are no available food sources or rewards, they’re likely to keep right on moving. List of common bear attractants here.

Secure attractants in bear-proof ways.

Bears are astonishingly strong. What we mere humans might see as a rational security measure can be destroyed in seconds by a bear. Rely on tactics that have been proven, nobody needs to reinvent the wheel. When you leave any attractant unsecured in bear country, just view it as bait. Bears remember where they scored a good snack, so even one slip up here can quickly cost a bear its life. 

Be curious about solutions.

Chances are that someone has successfully overcome a problem you might encounter. Get informed and stay ahead of the issues, empower yourself to live peacefully with these incredible animals, and be a helpful voice in your community. Encourage the use of bear-proof trash cans, store your pet food in a secure location, remember to close the garage door at night, and take in bird feeders as soon as bears come out of hibernation. And be sure to clean the grill! 

Don’t wait for the government to solve human created problems.

When neighbors get together, coexistence becomes a way of life. Share resources, learn from the folks doing it right, and take pride in being a good neighbor. The world loves bears, and they will thank you for keeping them safe. Resources: Blackfoot Challenge and Tom Miner Basin Association.

Recreate responsibly, carry bear spray, and know how to use it.

Bear spray should be on your body in a holster, not in your pack. Here’s a quick video with the basics of using bear spray!

Don’t wait. Advocate.

Use your voice to ask that your community gets ahead of the bears. We know where they will most likely go, and if you’re in that area, it’s time to start talking about this. 

When some new humans move in down the road, you wouldn’t hesitate to stop by an introduce yourself, perhaps with a plate of cookies or a bottle of wine as a warm welcome. Of course, Idaho’s new bear neighbors are hoping for exactly the opposite: that you’ll make sure there aren’t any mouthwatering morsels waiting for them. Be a great neighbor from the get-go, and the chances of trouble ahead dwindle significantly.

Congratulations, Idaho! And good luck!