Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Being bear aware: gleaning for bears

by Tina Zenzola
| September 7, 2022 12:00 AM

We learned the hard way. My husband and I had always relied on timing to pick fruit from our small orchard - harvesting right as the fruit ripened and before bears would be attracted to the sweet-smelling treats. Four years ago, our "timing" strategy didn't work so well. The pears on our trees ripened weeks earlier than usual, coinciding with when we were out of town for a family wedding. We returned home to find every pear eaten, plus mutilated trees with broken branches scattered around and big piles of fruit-filled bear scat on the ground. We were going to miss out on enjoying our hard-earned harvest, but more importantly, we'd inadvertently contributed to one more bear (or several bears) learning that it could get food near homes - something that puts my neighbors and the bears at risk.

I contacted Swan Valley Bear Resources (SVBR) who sent their experts out to help. Luke Lamar and Mike Mayernik came up with the design for electrifying our existing 6-ft chain link fence and a list of the materials we'd need to ensure enough voltage to deter even a grizzly. With our materials in-hand, Luke and Mike came out again to install the electric fencing, with us helping. If needed, SVBR also helps landowners get financial help to pay for the cost of materials. Though we learned the hard way, my husband I no longer have raids on our fruit trees, and we feel better knowing that we're keeping bears and the neighborhood safe.

It's once again fruit season in Bigfork and Ferndale. The trees are loaded with high-calorie apples, pears and other fruit that attracts bears. Typically, this time of year bears should be fattening up on wild berries in anticipation of hibernation. However, this year's huckleberry crop is mostly a failure so bear managers are anticipating a tough fall for bear conflicts due to bears seeking out alternative food sources that are sometimes found in people’s backyards. It's time for residents to consider how to keep bears out of our yards (and out of trouble), while helping each other and making sure fresh fruit doesn’t go to waste.

Here's what you can do:

  • If you have fruit trees, pick the fruit as soon as it ripens and don't let it fall and rot on the ground.
  • Don't feed fruit to deer or other wildlife, especially bears. Fruit left for deer will attract bears.
  • Put an electric fence around your fruit trees. Contact SVBR for help and potentially for financial assistance at www.swanvalleyconnections.org/swan-valley-bear-resources or 406-754-3137.
  • Can't pick your own fruit? Or want to get out and pick for those who can’t? Go to the Flathead Fruit Gleaning Facebook page, administered by Fish, Wildlife & Parks Bear Management staff, at https://www.facebook.com/FlatheadFruitGleaning/.
  • Want to donate harvested fruit to feed captive bears at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center near Yellowstone National Park? Fruit donations will be accepted from September 19th-23rd! Also, check the Flathead Fruit Gleaning Facebook page or contact BAB@svconnections for more information.

Tina Zenzola is the Swan Valley Bear Resources’ Bear Aware Bigfork Volunteer Coordinator & member of Swan Valley Connections Board of Directors.


Bear Aware Bigfork volunteers collect fruit last year for donations to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. (photo provided)